Global Web Standards Consortium Issues Online Captioning Guidelines

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Creators and distributors of online video content will have a uniform standard to follow for providing subtitles and closed captions worldwide.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—the global technical organization that develops Web standards—published new guidelines that address language translation, content description and captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The technical standard, called TTML Profiles for Internet Media Subtitles and Captions 1.0 (IMSC1), brings together popular features of the W3C’s Timed Text Markup Language in an effort to making subtitles and captions more accessible, consistent and interoperable across nations.

“Previously, content creators and distributors used regional versions and variations of TTML captioning and subtitles so the viewing experience was inconsistent in different parts of the world,” W3C Interaction Domain Leader Philippe Le Hegaret said in a statement. “Now, IMSC1 brings expanded new features, better technical quality, and consistency on a global scale.”

IMSC1 includes, for example, a feature that allows users to choose whether they want to see hard-of- hearing captions and translated foreign language subtitles at the same time.  IMSC1 also supports image-based subtitles, captioning styles popular in Europe (e.g., enhanced text alignment) and East Asian language typography. 

The W3C won an Emmy award in January for its work to make videos more accessible to international audiences and people with disabilities.  Netflix Inc.’s Director of Encoding Technologies David Ronca applauded the W3C’s new standard, calling it a “significant milestone in the effort to establish a single global standard for subtitles and closed captions.”

Last spring, Netflix began making its video content more accessible to blind users by adding an “audio description” feature to its original titles.  The feature narrates the visual elements of scenes so blind people can understand what’s happening when characters aren’t speaking.

A Netflix spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA May 27 that the company added approximately 1800 hours of audio description to its movies and TV shows since last spring. Netflix forecasts adding 150 hours per quarter this year.

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