BBC paper looks at the future of online captioning

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Thursday, 6 August 2015 16:39pm

As people increasingly watch TV programs online, the opportunity arises for captions to be made more responsive to the needs of individual users. A new BBC white paper looks at some of the possibilities, which include users being able to vary font size and colour, along with many other enhancements.

Man and woman smiling while viewing media on a smartphone together

The paper, Responsive Design for Personalised Subtitles (note that captions are called subtitles in the U.K.) was written by Chris J. Hughes, Mike Armstrong, Rhiane Jones and Michael Crabb. They note that most broadcasters retain the old caption format developed for use in teletext systems, where captions are delivered as blocks of 1–3 lines, with a maximum line length of 38 characters.

Portable devices such smart phones and iPads are “far more capable of text and graphical processing than a standard TV set”. This opens up the potential for captions to be created in such a way that users can customise them for their own needs. They would be able to change font size, font type and the background to the text, and modify the colours which identify individual speakers. Captions could also be placed anywhere on the screen, and even in speech bubbles.

All of this will require the format of caption files to change (for example, each word in a caption file would need to be timed to allow for line lengths to be changed). While little work on this has been done to date, a survey conducted by the paper’s authors found that the ability to change font size was particularly important for most users. The potential exists, then, for captions to become an even more useful tool than they are now for those who rely on them.

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