Working in Closed Captioning

After several years in medical transcription, I was curious about closed captioning work for a few different reasons, which I won’t go into here.

During the course of some research, I found a book on Amazon called "The Closed Captioning Handbook"by Gary Robson. The name sounded vaguely familiar and I went back and clicked on the link to see the rest of the author’s books. I recognized the “Everybody Poops” series as InvisibleWombat’s work. So naturally, I came here to see what information could be garnered.

I’m not averse to spending some money on resources/equipment, but before I lay out $65 for a very targeted book, I was hoping to get a few questions answered to see if this is actually an avenue I should explore further.

  1. Can anyone give me any idea of the pay structure and level of closed captioners? (Not real-time captioning.) Is it on a “per line” basis or hourly? Any kind of salary average?

  2. In MT, working from home for a company at the other end of the country is fairly common. In the opportunities for closed captioning I’ve found online, many of them seem to be on-site. Is this really the case or am I looking in the wrong spot?

  3. Are there any decent industry forums where captioners hang out, discuss their work, jobs are posted, etc?

  4. I know real-time captioning generally requires steno experience and equipment, which I don’t have and am not interested in going after at this time. What, if any, equipment or software should I consider?

  5. If all systems are go and I’m thinking of moving forward, would the Handbook be a good idea to obtain, or is it aimed at a different level of the industry?

Thanks in advance for any input!

AFAIK, it’s all done with stenotype machines. I’d advise contacting the companies themselves and asking what they require, what they pay, etc. Otherwise, the National Court Reporters Association online would be a place to start.

I can’t decide if yours is a wonderful or horrible username/post combination :slight_smile:

Not so. Real-time, or quasi-live captioning, is done with steno machines, but off-line captioning, the kind prepared ahead, is done on a good, old-fashioned keyboard, with proprietary software.

As to the OP, even though I spent years writing closed captions, I can’t offer much help, because I’ve been out of the field for a while and because the industry has changed so much. Back in the day, there were only a few captioning shops, but the number has exploded in recent years. I have no idea how many there are now.

Thanks for the responses so far - hopefully someone might have some more concrete information at some point.

That’s what I was gleaning from my research, but it’s good to have that confirmed.


I think you alluded to this, but since you didn’t come right out and say so, I feel compelled to chime in. Gary Robson, the author of that book, is a mod here on the SMDB. I only know that because I remember reading his comments in more than one thread where folks asked about how closed captioning works. If he doesn’t pop in to this thread, I suggest sending him a PM or contacting him through his website.

Thanks, Anson. Since this topic kind of died on the vine, I was considering doing exactly that. :slight_smile:

I never thought of CC as being performed by captionists.
another related field you might want to look into is C-Print, which is computer aided realtime translation for dhh students in hearing classrooms.

You could also consider transcription, which might be a broader market than closed captioning. It’s still transcribing what is said in audio or video recordings, but for a much wider variety of applications than just adding subtitles to video.

Not any more: a lot of the live work is done using “revoicing”. A voice-recognition program needs to be trained to recognize a person’s specific speech patterns. So, you have two people talking, then you have the “revoicer” repeating what’s said to a voice-recognition program and (if budget and time allow), another person correcting what the program types.

Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately, working on-site isn’t really an option for me at this point.

I’ve been in medical transcription for several years, and general transcription is something I’m looking at as well. The closed captioning was something I focused on as possibly the better-paying option (since I don’t have legal transcription experience) and also because it would be a nice change from MT. After all, your average TV show is a lot easier to understand than your average doctor. :smiley:

Over the years, I’ve moved around and am now in a fairly high-stress position that has less and less appeal as time goes on. I’m not thrilled about the idea of stepping backwards there, so I’m looking around at some other alternatives.

How could that possibly be any more cost efficient than paying somebody to type it up? :dubious: Unless it’s meant to specifically employ blind people without hands, you’d have to pay somebody a lot more to say 10,000 words than to type them, it’s going to take more time and equipment, and the quality in the end is going to be worse.

I just paid for a real-time captioning person at a political convention. We paid her firm $120 per hour – I don’t know how much she personally got paid.

She used a steno keyboard connected to a regular laptop connected to a projector. She was real good at this, able to keep up with speakers quite well. Seemed to have several responses pre-programmed into the machine; for example she could generate “{applause]” with a single keystroke.

Yeah, the real-time stuff seems to be where the big bucks are, for sure, but it’s either steno or the revoicing that Nava was talking about.

I had to laugh at this because so much of the MT industry has gone to speech recognition. Granted, most people aren’t revoicing it, but a lot of people find editing speech recognition text to be a lot more hassle than just typing it straight, no matter what the official line is.

I’ve transcribed dozens of hours of interviews using the revoicing technique and Dragon Naturally Speaking 10. I disagree that it would have been faster to have just typed it. Admittedly, I am not a 100 wps typist (35 wps is more my speed), but a well-trained copy of Naturally Speaking is, at least in my experience, very accurate. More accurate than my fastest typing. I’ll have a file playing through the earphones and NS10 picking up my voice and I can keep up with nearly any conversation.

I didn’t really think this through all that well when I commented. I projected it based on my own expectations – I can type at 80-90 WPM with good accuracy and wouldn’t really mind doing it 40 hours a week. However I would go hoarse after re-voicing something for two/three hours and can’t imagine doing that full time every day. However, I’m constantly baffled by people who prefer 45 minute phone calls to a 3 minute e-mail, so maybe re-voicing is the job for them :slight_smile:

In the same way I can’t imagine typing for two to three hours at a stretch. Talking seems (to me) a lot less stressful than typing, especially if you drink water on a regular basis.

Just wondering if you have found out any more about this. I am in the same situation, an MT looking to change. It is confusing and overwhelming to try to find these jobs on the internet. Surprisingly few of them seem to work from home positions.

I work in this field, called subtitling in the UK. You do need proprietary software, really - the freeware just isn’t very good; fine for DVD authoring, but not for broadcast TV. I can’t recommend one for the US, though, because PAL and NTSC are so different when it comes to subtitles that US closed-captioners might use different software. I use Wincaps, which cost almost 800 quid for a year’s licence. Swift is the other most popular professional software here.

Most of the work is from home on a freelance basis. And there really isn’t a lot of work around at the moment, I’m afraid. A lot of subtitlers translate from foreign languages as well as working in their own language.

Same-language work pays per broadcast minute - around 2.50 per minute. Translating is per word or per subtitle and is the equivalent of about 3 quid per broadcast minute, although some languages may pay more. You might be able to do 45 minutes of broadcast time a day, which clearly does not add up to a lot of money.

It’s a lot more difficult than you’d expect. There are whole year-long master’s degrees in the subject. It’s not just typing up words, although even that is more difficult than it sounds when people with strong accents are talking very quietly - and you have to get it exactly right. Usually you add sound effects too, written in a specific format.

You also have to fit the text into a 37-character 2-line space (sometimes 3) and into a defined reading speed, which often requires editing. For TV broadcast you then need to add colours and reposition the subtitles so that they don’t conceal any text on screen, like credits or names or quiz show scores.

Timing is to the frame and (usually) the shot change, with minimum and maximum durations and minimum gaps between each caption. Different TV companies have their own standards for these.

Some of this may be different in the US, but I doubt it’s much easier. And you might have seen subtitles that amateurs have made to go with TV shows, which might make it seem easy, but they’re not up to broadcast standard.

I work for a US-based subtitling/localization company and although I’m not in our captioning department, what I know agrees with what SciFiSam said. IIRC, all our captioners work in house, using our proprietary software, and are paid hourly.

I took a look at the book, and while it provides great information, I think the information in it is peripheral knowledge for people actually doing captioning work, things that aren’t particularly relevant to the day-to-day stuff. Each company has its own protocols and standards, and the generalities the book speaks in may just confuse you.