Live captioning from the ESPN man cave

October 27, 2011 BY JOSH MILLER
Updated: June 3, 2019

Many people wonder how live television programming is captioned.  Some even ask if it’s done by speech recognition since it’s often rife with funny spelling and odd mistakes (you can find some gems with a simple “caption fail” image search).  In reality, the reason why it isn’t perfect is because it is being typed live, in real-time by a human!  That’s right, a court stenographer uses a special steno machine to type up to 200 words per minute.

ESPN recently gave a sneak peak into their Program Compliance team that oversees closed captioning for ESPN programming across their many affiliates.  They even talk through the process of how the content reaches a remote stenographer and how the captions are then sent back to ESPN and embedded into their broadcast feed. Sports content is actually some of the most difficult to caption in general because games are fast-paced, there is specialized vocabulary, and the rosters are full of unique player names.  Add the live component and you can quickly see that this is quite an operation.

ESPN points out that there are many benefits to closed captioning in addition to serving the hearing impaired. Captions also allow viewers at gyms, bars, airports, and offices to follow along without the sound. Non-native English speakers also benefit from captions because it is easier to read the text than to follow what is being spoken.  Web captions are even more powerful than television captions since search and SEO are additional benefits for web-based content.

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