It’s not just about the Cricket – It’s about access, inclusion, education, entertainment, information.

1 February. Into my inbox pops an email from Annabel’s new year 5 teacher. Her ‘mainstream’ school starts February 3rd. It was a lovely email of introduction to the syllabus from her new teacher. Like all great teachers she’s gone the extra mile to understand Annabel’s needs. Annabel is deaf and knowing topics in advance really helps to learn new vocal before it hits in a classroom setting. Annabel’s teacher did exactly the right thing.

As I read through the email, my heart sank. One of the first ‘topics’ was to be Cricket World Cup. Why did my heart sink? What’s wrong with cricket? After all its a great sporting event, co-hosted between New Zealand and Australia. Both sports mad nations. I knew that the Cricket World Cup would screen on Prime TV (which we can watch as a Free to Air Channel) and Sky Sports (which we do not subscribe to). I also knew it would not be captioned. Put bluntly, Annabel can only guess what is being said on TV without captions. Accessibility fail.

Annabel’s only chance of following the Cricket World Cup action was to watch Prime TV and guess what was being said. I would interpret and/or live caption as best I could. A few glimpses would appear on the nightly OneNews captioned programme with a bit of luck.

We recorded the Cricket World Cup opening ceremony. We knew it wouldn’t be captioned but had high hopes she would see the NZSL interpreter on stage for the official speeches. Unfortunately the broadcast by Sky and shown on Prime from the ICC Cricket World Cup broadcaster ‘Star Sports’, obscured the interpreter. Captioning would have solved this problem.

We took her to the awesome New Zealand v England game at the cake tin in Wellington. In common it seems with the rest of NZ glued to TV screens or webcasts online or mobile devices, she got totally caught up in it. She wanted to know who New Zealand would play next. New Zealand met Australia at Eden Park and we tried to watch the highlights – again without captioning. If she lived in Australia, she would have been able to watch it live with closed captioning. Several channels aired with closed captioning.

But its just a game of cricket some might say? Yes and they are quite right. Some argue that the commentary is rubbish anyway so why would you want to listen to it – see what they say by closed captioning? I have no doubt that if we win the cup, it will of course take on a special National significance.

But its a big event. Our politicians have taken to debating it in Parliament (also not captioned, either on TV or on the associated Youtube channels though some pilot work has been started to improve this). MPs from both sides of the house have tweeted to wish the Black Caps good luck. Some have posted videos (also without captioning). Thanks to the glorious summer, New Zealand as a country has looked great on an international stage, and Pure New Zealand (‘the’ New Zealand brand backed by Tourism New Zealand) have posted video too – also without good closed captioning. Indeed on the surface, New Zealand has looked great on an international stage.

But its not the first major international even to be screened without captioning. The Commonwealth games – also studied at school, was not available with captioning. Will the Rugby World Cup? Will Rio2016 be captioned?

News clips shown on the web, originally broadcast with captioning, have no captioning. Try getting captions on TVNZ One News clips online. Nope. Only One News has captioning on air anyway. No breakfast news on ANY channel. No Campbell live. Media Works the owners of TV3 announced their go live date for the new Paul Henry show but are yet to reply to my question about captioning?

Annabel wants to know what TVNZ On Demand is all about. Frankly I daren’t tell her it doesn’t have captioning. Every time I see an advert for TVNZ On Demand, I feel like it needs one of those disclaimers that are spoken too quickly at the end of insurance adverts ‘closed captioning unavailable even if the programme originally aired on TV with them’.

No captions on the new NEON service from Sky.

Alexandra, Annabel’s 7 year old sister will tell you she doesn’t like Spark because they don’t caption Lightbox.

These are not small community television companies that perhaps should have subsidy from New Zealand on Air to produce great New Zealand content. They are commercial Broadcasters.

Sometimes, the girls want to watch TV together…. ok and sometimes they fight over what to watch. They’ve never watched the TVNZ 4.30 Show which even though funded by NZ On Air, also has no captions. Buying a DVD from TVNZ’s online shop for Christmas didn’t work either, they are not captioned any longer.

I could go on and on.

The point is, it doesn’t have to be this way. New Zealand considers itself to be a leader in the digital world. The Harvard Business Review even proclaimed this in a recent article. Amy Adams, Minister for Broadcasting (and Minister of Technology) even tweeted about it.

But for captioning we are decades behind.

I have become somewhat of a caption crusader. People ask me why, when there are so many other battles I have to fight due to Annabel’s underlying medical condition I also spend time on this one. So here’s my answer

– inclusion matters.

* I don’t want my daughter to feel excluded – at home, watching TV, at school in a multimedia environment, at the cinema. Captioning makes a difference.

* My hard of hearing mother benefits from captions (she would kill me if I described her as elderly but the reality is hearing fades with age).

* Captions can help all children learn to read – whether they hear perfectly or never have. In Australia and the US there are captioned media programmes to help in schools. Some are even funded by the government.

* Captions are extremely beneficial for English as a second language users.

* Captioned content on the web improves search engine optimisation making content discoverable. A win for accessibility and a win for business. (Pure New Zealand are definitely missing a trick by failing to caption).

* I know that closed captions are very useful when people watch video at work or on mobile devices or in noisy places like airports and bars!

TV and video can be accessible. Australia has increased their captioning quotas such that their Senate recommended dropping reporting of captioning quotas. The justification being that its 100% between 6am – midnight. I did mention earlier that the cricket was captioned in Australia didnt I?!

TV is being redefined. A quick read of the business ‘press’ reveals media companies, both TV, print and online, as well as telecommunications providers (including internet provision as a utility for example) agree that lines are being blurred between TV broadcasters and other media. The need for captioning is growing with the proliferation of video.

So why isn’t there more captioning?

Lack of awareness is part of the problem. Leading by example certainly helps. Monday 9 March, politicians of both sides of the house appeared on Breakfast television on different channels to discuss the By-election in Northland. No breakfast TV news programme has captioning in New Zealand. More appearances this week, in fact every week.

The current ‘official’ approach from the government is to encourage captioning not legislate for it. I’d love to live in the nirvana that encouragement alone would work. But to be honest its not. We legislate for many other things in this country that seem like common sense to me!

NZ On Air (via Government allowance) fund the Able Trust $1.9m to provide captioning for some programmes. (240 hours per week in 2011, 250 hours in 2014). Able do a great job and have managed to increase the captioning embracing technology. The pick up however is glacially slow in this fast moving world. Without a requirement for broadcasters to caption, they choose to hide hide behind the funding model rather than accept a responsibility for accessibility and take a leadership position themselves.

In Australia and the UK, legislation is in place requiring captioning (and in the UK signing and Audio description). There, Broadcasters, both free to air and subscription TV routinely exceed their quotas. They are required to provide the captioning. It’s a cost of business. Captioning is not funded by the government. The US passed captioning legislation years ago and are strengthening legislation, something that will benefit many globally as more captioned content becomes available online. It seems that inclusion via captioning is expected in these countries.

Captions cost a mere fraction of the production cost for an advert or a web series or full length film or a mini series or a one off documentary or to license a programme. Include captioning cost when budgeting for the programme. License the subtitles/captions produced in other countries when purchasing the programme rights.

Why is it acceptable that programmes made with NZ On Air funds are allowed to be screened without captioning? Some of these programmes receive huge funding. Even programmes made with NZ On Air funds and shown on TV with NZ On Air funded captions are made available online without them! The Brokenwood Mysteries, received in excess of $4m NZD for 8 hours worth of programming. Shown on Sky owned Prime TV, without captions.

There’s an upside to businesses of course from captioning. My kids will tell you which companies caption their TV advertisements – guess what? That advertisers product message got further. Annabel doesn’t have a clue what the little yellow stick figure from PakNSave is trying to tell you on that advert, he or she is pretty hard to lip read! Able New Zealand will caption a TV commercial for $200!

Change takes time, but with children, perhaps more than most, every day is a learning opportunity. Its precious.

Every day Annabel misses captioning at school or at home, it re-inforces to her inner voice that lack of inclusion is ‘OK’. Well its not.

There are thousands of New Zealanders who would benefit from more captioning. My daughter is just one of them. My mum is another. And heh, one day, I too will probably need them as I hope to live to a ripe old age. As will many politicians. But perhaps thats the problem with ‘disability’, people think it won’t impact me. Think again. For businesses, there are customers out there, waiting to be reached. Want youR youtube clip to go viral? Get captioning? Want your tourist message to reach more tourists? Get Captioning? Want to help your visual learner, learn to read, turn your captions on!

So, its not just about the cricket at all. Its about access, inclusion, education, entertainment, information. Video use is spreading. Cisco predict that by 2018, video will account for an unprecedented 84% of the web.

So back to the cricket.

I wish the Black Caps all the very best in the Cricket World Cup.

The ICC posters say greatness is contagious. Guess what? Good captions are too.

Annabel wrote to PM last year about captioning. Her class did the same. You may find her perspective interesting in this blog.


Sevens Crowd Cheers
Image [New Zealand Sevens team holding Sevens cup following success in Wellington. Caption reads ‘Crowd Cheers’. US Flag flies in background, courtesy One News, Captioning by Able]

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  1. Pingback: Building an inclusive New Zealand requires ALL of us to play our part. Access to information is a human right. | We Need Words October 20, 2015

    […] This is a bigger issue than Sport. In March I wrote that “it’s not just about the cricket” (which wasn’t captioned) “its about access, inclusion, education, entertainment, information.” […]

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