2012 – The Year of the Subtitles

About a year ago I wrote a blog about subtitles – Really HD Ready? [s]; it focused on the lack of closed captions on Sky HD and had a brief look at other providers too.

The importance for subtitled TV and film is still as important as it was when I wrote the blog a year ago, and indeed the year before that, and the year before that, and even a few years before OFCOM and the Communications Act 2003.

As I stated in the previous blog, subtitles don’t only benefit deaf or hard of hearing viewers there is a diverse list of people who wish to use it:

  • Viewers who use English as a second language,
  • Parents with young sleeping children who need to keep the volume down,
  • People like myself who enjoy the occasional munching of crisps whilst watching a film (so far I believe Doritos to be the noisiest – tried and tested!),
  • Noisy environments such as train stations and airports when you’ve forgotten your headphones.
  • Quiet environments such as hospitals.

Any others please pop your answers on a postcard and comment on this blog or send to me via twitter (@sami_luu) and I’ll add it to the list.

Personally I always watch TV with subtitles (except when I’m with my mum – she finds them annoying and distracting – tut tut mother, how 2010 of you!). For me I think it’s just a habit and to make sure I don’t miss anything. In the instance of  a TV show or film not having the subtitle option, I have to crank up the volume and make sure everyone in the room is silent, no one is allowed to hoover or do their laundry! I turn into a bit of a pain in the bum just because I don’t want to miss anything, maybe this says more about me than I desire you to know. Moving swiftly on….

Yesterday a hearing person blogged about their experience at a cinema showing that provided captioning. For them it was a bit of a surprise as they had not read the information on the ticket (which seems obvious but let’s be honest, we’ve all been there). They document their experience as a pleasant one and commend the virtues of subtitled cinema for English, hearing people…. Have a read.

From what I gather from deaf friends, cinema subtitles can be somewhat unreliable. A film can be advertised as subtitled and then changed at the last minute which, I imagine can be very frustrating. As to why this is done is a question for the cinemas; the cynic in me says for them it is better to receive fewer complaints from the majority hearing patrons than the minority deaf ones. But promises should be promises.

Netflix is an internet streaming service that has recently become available in the UK where you can subscribe for a fee and watch an unlimited number of films and TV programmes on a multitude of devices. In Feb 2011 they claimed to make their US content 80% closed captioned (i.e. the ability to turn subtitles on or off)  increased from 30%*. Whether this has been achieved, after being sued in June by a deaf American group* I cannot confirm or deny. Looking at my UK account there are about 560 TV shows and films that provide the option of subtitles (this number does not include individual TV episodes). I have noticed however, some shows provide subtitles that you would not get on the DVD for example, Warehouse 13. It goes to show that positive steps are being taken and there is a huge demand for a closed captioning service.

So, those people complaining about subtitles your time has passed, it’s not just for deaf people. Let’s embrace it and make “2012 the year of the subtitles”.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by MEL on February 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Hi Sami – another task is to get the quality of subtitles up to scrath. having recently watched a bit of kids tv which subtitled the presenter as saying ‘Let’s get slaughtered— started’ The number of oppps moments on live tv especially is horiffic. Ask Kate, she said she watched something the other week and they just stopped, stuck on one line and didn’t carry on. Great Blog btw. Hugs x


  2. Thanks for reading Mel. I totally agree, if the subtitles are live I don’t bother turning them on. If you want to see more examples of “oops moments” have a look at Matthew’s blog: http://subtitlespage888.blogspot.com/

    I hope they improve the service of live captioning and by that I mean the technology behind how it is done and not the individuals who type it. I can’t say it’s a job I would want to do, I’m nervous enough posting a blog that I’ve at least skimmed through before publishing, broadcasting my typos to the nation would give me many sleepless nights!


  3. Pleased to read those statistics for the Netflix UK launch, when I’ve got my internet TV set up I shall have a look myself and I hope I am pleasantly surprised.


  4. People seem divided on the subtitling service of Netflix. Currently they don’t have an email contact just a telephone number. Puzzling but true! However @Netflixhelps aims to respond to you on twitter within 24 hours. I got a speedy response when posing a few questions regarding subtitles. They have informed me that captioning is available for some TV episodes/films and although they wouldn’t reveal a percentage of captioned media they state that they are working on adding titles all the time. You can view if a programme or film had subtitles by looking on the details page.

    I have found by signing up that you can filter by subtitles so you don’t have to slog through lots of films, continually being disappointed until you find one you can watch.

    They are offering a free trial at the moment so for those of you that try, let me know your experiences. The weather is such that we all want to snuggle down and enjoy a film the way we want to.


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