SVG Q&A: EEG’s Bill McLaughlin on the Future of Closed Captioning

Cloud-based captioning has opened up new ways to get the job done

The world of closed-captioning equipment continues to evolve, and it’s a good thing: the amount of captioning that content creators need to offer continues to grow to keep up with federal regulations. SVG sat down with Bill McLaughlin, VP, product development, EEG, who shared his thoughts on the company’s product lineup, the role cloud-based captioning systems are playing, and more.

Cloud-based captioning seems pretty cool, especially since it connects clients remotely to a closed-captioning specialist. Can you walk us through the process of how that workflow gets up and running?
iCap is a secure authenticated network that connects vetted professional closed-captioners from around the world to live-content producers. Once you’ve selected a caption agency to work with, it is really quite simple to get started. Each individual iCap encoding product — whether it’s the HD492 SDI encoder, Alta, or Falcon — has its own unique access code associated with it. Broadcasters employing any of these encoding solutions simply provide their designated code to the caption agency of their choice. All major caption agencies are linked into our network, which allows them to enter the access code for the appropriate job to receive program audio and return captions back into the broadcaster’s video path, all over an IP connection.

How does iCap system match up the client with a captioner? Can a client build a consistent relationship with a favorite captioner and use it again and again?
An iCap customer requiring captions will first contract independently with any of these caption agencies based on price, delivery quality, familiarity with a specialty subject, or other specific need. After that, the stream owner provides permissions to the contractor within the iCap system and provides them with their access code, and the contractor is ready to go to work right away.

While iCap doesn’t dictate any contractual relationship between the parties, many iCap customers do build and maintain lasting relationships with their caption agencies. In fact, iCap has helped to foster these relationships by eliminating outdated complicated caption workflows, increasing reliability, and allowing both broadcasters and captioners to focus on what they do best.

What is the difference between iCap Alta and iCap Falcon? At first blush, they appear to be the same?
Both are virtualized software caption-encoding solutions on the iCap network. Alta is for IP production deployments that use lightly compressed or uncompressed video in a closed network, using MPEG-TS, SMPTE 2022-6, or SMPTE 2110 when available. Falcon is a cloud SAAS encoder that uses RTMP and HTTP formats for low-latency live streams being delivered to cloud-hosted video-hosting platforms, like YouTube, Twitch, Wowza, etc.

You also have a wide range of other products. What are your most popular products, and what do your clients like about them?
iCap, along with its umbrella of encoding products, is currently the number-one captioning solution for television broadcasters, educational facilities, and independent producers for a reason. Our customers love iCap because it is future-proof: they know they have installed a single captioning solution with the flexibility to accommodate any platform from SDI to IP to live streaming.

Broadcasters want something they can set and forget that will deliver the highest-quality results. iCap is plug-and-play; delivers superior IP audio to captioners, resulting in much higher accuracy; and allows for seamless transition between current and future platforms. We also work extensively in the non-live postproduction caption-authoring area, with our Scribe editor and CCPlay FilePro stitching software. These remain popular because customers in the industry know that everything from EEG is built with expertise in captioning. We have a reputation as perfectionists and as the number-one industry resource in this area. We build products to solve the problems experienced in other tools.

Captioning is not exactly the sexiest product category, but it is an important one. When someone starts shopping for a captioning solution, what are some tips (aside from buying an EEG system) that they should keep in mind when they are making a buying decision?
We hear prospective customers say all the time, with frustration, that captioning problems account for half of their discrepancy reports and how can that be when it seems so easy to just put text on the screen! Quality and reliability matter a lot, and there are so many devils in the details with content going out in more formats than ever and a huge variety of devices decoding captions with different quirks. So, from a technology perspective, the least expensive short-term solution is not always the best one to buy. That’s especially true in captioning when you consider that the operational cost of the transcription services, over time, is going to dwarf technology costs. Good technology decisions upfront make the necessary investment in services pay off with a great viewer experience and a pain-free operational experience.

You mention that the least expensive solution is not always the best. But often those budget constraints are laid out by someone who doesn’t understand the technology and is more of a numbers person. Can you expand on your thought concerning operational costs? Are operational costs typically higher for cheaper systems?
The operational costs refer to the captioning agency that will be providing the live-captioning services. These costs will remain the same regardless of the technology you’re using. [It’s] an ongoing service, and, over time, these costs will far exceed the one-time cost of any caption-encoding technology you purchased in the beginning. Saving a few bucks in the immediate term on cheaper and less reliable equipment can often cause more headaches in the long run.

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