Lightbox – A World-Class viewing experience – without Captions. “world-class viewing experiences include captioning. Great media companies should make accessibility a priority”

Hardly a day goes by now without some media comment about Netflix coming to New Zealand, new Video on Demand services in Australia or New Zealand, or the demise of traditional TV.

Spark, the company formerly known as Telecom launched Lightbox at the end of August. It’s their foray into Internet TV. Now we all know that accessibility of any kind, is best built in from the start of product design, so we asked whether they would be captioning immediately after their product announcement. They told us no.

So we wanted to know more. We’ve copied below the response the Chair of the New Zealand Captioning Working Group, Louise Carroll, received.

Kym Niblock has recently started as Lightbox’ Managing Director.

“The way in which New Zealanders and the rest of the world watch TV is rapidly evolving…Lightbox will accelerate that trend and provide a world-class viewing experience.”

Sky will also be launching a new service soon. They say their technical details aren’t finalized.

In our opinion, world-class viewing experiences include captioning. Great media companies should make accessibility a priority.

Lightbox is choosing to hide behind public funding for captioning from NZ On Air. The CaptionitNZ campaign is not about more tax payer funding for captioning. It seeks to introduce legislation to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts to make captioning access a part of the fabric of NZ media. On TV. On Demand. On the web.

Read the response from Lightbox to our request for captioning:

Lightbox is a new subscription internet video-on-demand service that will soon launch in New Zealand. We have looked at setting up a closed captioning option at the time of launch – however, upon investigation, the costs and technical difficulties of doing so are prohibitively expensive. This means that we are unable to offer captioning services for the time being.

Lightbox has met with representatives of the hearing impaired community to discuss their concerns. We understand the desire for people to have access to and enjoy this content. Once Lightbox has launched, gains customers and starts generating revenue, we will be in a position to consider additional services like captioning.

Applying captioning to an online service like Lightbox is much more difficult than setting it up on normal TV, pay TV or for the movies – although our product will competes directly with them for customers (and keeping in mind those other options have been in the market already for many years). Whereas they only need to insert the captioning into the broadcast or produce a single movie format – the technical difficulties of setting up on internet TV are immense.

This is because when we purchase the rights to a show – it comes as a number of files. One of those files could be the captions. We then would have to build a different platform for each show, and then a different delivery mechanism for each platform depending on what device someone might be watching on (the formatting is different for each). The ‘captioning’ file would then need to be manually coded into the delivery file, for each platform/device – and manually adjusted/matched so the captioning fits.

Unfortunately for a start-up business trying to get established in a competitive market, this is unachievable. Lightbox has an establishment budget of $20 million. While that might sound like a lot of money, we estimate that adding captioning to part of our content could have cost between $3-5 million (or up to 25% of our set up costs).

In an ideal world, we would add the service – but it is not possible to do so until the product has been stood up and is successful.

In addition, Internet TV is treated differently from other content when it comes to accessing public funding for captioning services. While TVNZ and TV3 are able to access NZonAir funding for captioning services, Lightbox is not and that places us at a disadvantage against our competitors. We are happy to work with the hearing impaired community to change this policy so that public funding for captioning is device and platform agnostic, and appropriate for the modern world.

Conor Roberts

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