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Catching up with captions

By Matt Simpson, head of product management, access services, Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services

As the Digital Economy Bill reaches the latter stages of the UK Parliamentary process before it achieves Royal Assent and passes into law, it looks highly likely to include an amendment to facilitate the extension of accessibility regulation to on-demand programme services.

This follows the FCC’s programme of new online video regulations in the US, and indicates a growing trend amongst regulatory bodies to harmonise legislation between online and over-the-air platforms.

The US has seen a gradual tightening and extension of regulation in a series of steps since 2012. The starting point was entire programmes shown on linear TV with captions, which progressed through to excerpts and montages from previously broadcast programmes, and then to clips lifted from live and near-live TV. This has made the delivery of captions considerably more challenging, as well as increasing the budgetary impact.

In the UK, we expect the Bill to lead to changes to Ofcom’s Code on Television Access Services; to wrap in reporting on online services with that relating to over-the-air services. Ofcom has already consulted on aligning the reporting timetables for the two types of services.

So what does this mean for broadcasters and content owners? Given the plethora of video platforms, file formats and delivery methods for online video and the associated captions, does this mean a lot of extra cost? At Ericsson we’re committed to ensuring that regulatory changes need not force unnecessary additional captioning spend.

Over the past couple of years we’ve been focusing on building automated platforms to take the hassle out of versioning captions for online presentation, and to minimise the cost of captioning production. We’ve extended our captioning platform to introduce a conversion and delivery engine; this new tool allows us to automatically convert traditional broadcast caption or subtitle assets (typically an EBU-STL file) to a large number of output formats, including EBU-TT Part 2, SAMI, TTML for YouView and Android, Web-VTT (unsegmented and segmented), EBU-TT-D, ISMT, SMPTE-TT and SRT. We’re working to include automatic conversion of files to an international CC format over the next few months, and are able to introduce new formats with ease, in line with our clients’ needs.

We’ve made the engine simple to extend, using a modular architecture and ‘recipe’ based approach – assuming that no two conversion/destination pairs will be quite the same; we’re also able to support a ‘one in – many out’ workflow, avoiding any unnecessary administrative overhead.

The conversion and delivery engine is driven by REST API work requests and is able to transcode and provide simple edits to the subtitle files to remove unwanted commercial breaks, add pre-roll offsets and so forth. Delivery direct to the client CDN is then managed by a number of secure delivery protocols.

The engine bolts seamlessly onto our caption creation workflow and archives, and will provide a very cost effective means to meet the new regulatory challenges as they arise.

By Matt Simpson, head of product management, access services, Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services