Filmmakers, Give us Space!

Producers of closed captioning services are tasked with providing subtitles that will benefit Deaf, ESL and hard-of-hearing viewers, as well as audiences who use closed captioning to aid in their understanding of the content.

But we find ourselves asking the question, what is the value of closed captioning if it is forced to be displayed in competition with a composed visual image?

In short, much of the viewing screen has been unavailable for true focus on closed captioning services.

For news programs, we cannot easily use the bottom of the screen because closed captioning may obscure rolling text bars. We then consider moving the captioning display to the top of screen only to find another text bar or other information already placed there.

One possible solution is to bounce the text from the top to the bottom of the screen to avoid covering visual elements. The issue with this is that closed captioning must be displayed for a minimum of two seconds. Unfortunately, much of this time will be spent by the viewer having to re-focus or otherwise track the position of the closed captioning on the screen. This, of course, leads to the viewer missing much of the visual content of the program, as well as the closed captioning itself, which is in no one’s interest.

If captioning is expected to occur superimposed over the live-action video, then a block box is additionally required, due to changes in background color which may leave the viewer attempting to read light-colored text over a light-colored background, once again losing pertinent information and equivalency.

But who are we to cover a portion of the composed visual content?

Surely a better answer is for a block of space to be set aside for closed captioning services that will become the standard in positioning, so that viewers always know where to focus on the screen to find subtitles.

Hopefully, once such a space is set aside to accommodate viewers who require closed captioning, filmmakers themselves will begin to adapt their compositional use of screen space so that important visual information doesn’t compete for attention in the same part of the screen as subtitles.

Or perhaps manufacturers of visual media hardware will finally begin to consider a space on the screen for subtitling entirely separate from the space marked out for visual programming, in short, letting closed captioning and visual programming work together rather than in competition that is of no value to either interest.