AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! Unite to Advance Online Media Captioning
To overcome technology and production barriers, the leading providers of web-based video have joined with media access pioneer WGBH/Boston to develop solutions to increase the amount of online video accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have asked WGBH and its Carl and Ruth Shapiro National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) to establish and manage the Internet Captioning Forum (ICF) to address the technical challenges presented by online video repurposed from broadcast or other previously captioned sources, as well as video created specifically for the web.
“More and more people are turning to the Internet to get their news, watch programs and other video,” says WGBH’s Director of Media Access, Larry Goldberg. “The scarcity of captions online is due to a variety of challenges, including a proliferation of media and text formats and players, editing of programs originally distributed with captions, and lack of clear online caption production and delivery requirements. The founding members of the ICF are all companies long dedicated to making their products and services accessible to people with disabilities. They recognize that working together on this challenge is the best, fastest and most practical way to get more captioned video on the web.”
The collaboration is expected to yield a range of solutions and tools, among them:
- A database for online media distributors, populated by major captioning providers, of previously captioned programs. This tool will facilitate the location and reuse of existing caption files.
- Technical and standards documents, case studies and best practices for accomplishing pervasive online video captioning.
- Demonstrations of innovative practices to preserve captions while editing and digitizing captioned videos.
In addition to the global audience of people who are deaf or hard of hearing, beneficiaries of the ICF’s initiative also include people who rely on translation engines to convert caption text into other languages, people using online video in noisy situations or at work, and search engines that use caption text to search and retrieve online videos.
Cheryl Heppner, executive director of the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons says, “The formation of the Internet Captioning Forum will become a milestone in the history of access to media. The community of people who are deaf or hard of hearing has worked for decades to achieve the access to television captioning we have now. The partnership of AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! with WGBH promises to be a major step forward for accessible online video.”
ICF Collaborators Speak
The four companies have their reasons for tackling this problem.
“For several years now AOL has been working to tackle the range of challenges to facilitate timely delivery of captioned video content online: from the production and need for automated publishing of caption data to support for the display of captions in AOL’s web-based media player. Our efforts have demonstrated that collaboration between content producers and content distributors is the best way forward to achieve wide scale availability of captioned video on the web. It is our hope that the Internet Caption Forum will provide the venue for producers and distributors to come together to define the model for production and delivery of captions on the web,” said Tom Wlodkowski, Director of Accessibility, AOL.
“The Internet has been one of the most democratizing forces in the communications universe but it needs to accommodate the needs of all its users, including those who have need of features such as captions for audio and adaptable visual presentations. The Forum is one way in which information service providers can work together to establish reliable practices to improve access to Internet-based information,” said Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google.
Rob Sinclair, Director, Microsoft Accessibility Business Unit, added, “As a leader in the online media space, we recognize our responsibility to raise the level of service we supply so that it is accessible to everyone. Microsoft is pleased to join with our industry colleagues and WGBH to create solutions that will enable the industry to effectively deliver online captioned media.”
And Victor Tsaran, Accessibility Program Manager, Yahoo! Stressed, “Yahoo! applauds the collaborative effort led by WGBH to create a solution for making online video content accessible to all. Because the need for online captioning will continue to grow across the Web, Yahoo! is excited to join with our colleagues to develop quality responses to this accessibility challenge.”
The WGBH-Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) is a research, development and advocacy entity that works to make existing and emerging technologies accessible to all audiences. NCAM is part of the Media Access Group at WGBH, which also includes The Caption Center (est. 1972), and Descriptive Video Service® (est. 1990). For more information, visit access.wgbh.org.