Photo - cat on a TV decoder

closed captioning in lolcatspeak?

If you are following @iheartsubtitles on Twitter you will be aware that I retweet mistakes found in TV subtitling. This is not a complaint from me, far from it. 99.9% of such mistakes come from live subtitling from TV. This is more often than not a combination of technical limitations and human error.

Some tweets that complain about mistakes can be quite angry and so the point of this page is to educate and remind readers without getting all preachy about it that live subtitling and real-time captioning is very much a skilled profession. I for one am thankful for it and I wish more people were aware of the work required behind the scenes so to speak to get live subtitles as accurate as possible.

So how is real-time captioning / live subtitling done? This varies but live TV subtitling can be done via any of the techniques below and depending on the broadcaster might well involve a combination of the techniques listed below.

Qwerty Keyboards – ordinary Qwerty keyboard as an alternative to machine shorthand. (I suspect this is used the least for live subtitling compared to the alternatives below due to limitations in matching real-time speed.)
Phonetic Keyboards – use of a special phonetic keyboard designed for verbatim transcription, such as the Palantype system or the Stenograph system. Here is a great example – an interview with an award winning stenographer:

Velotype Keyboards – Velotype syllabic chord keyboard.
Speech Recognition Software & Respeaking – a subtitler watches and listens to the
television programme as it is broadcast live. Wearing a headset, he or she simultaneously repeats or paraphrases what is being said. Here is an example:

And here is a fantastic segment from the BBC programme See Hear, explaining in detail how Red Bee Media produces subtitles for TV channels in the UK.

In March 2013, BBC Careers published a video on their You Tube channel that explains the job role of a subtitler on a typical day (Note: This video may not be available to those viewing outside the UK):


Martin Cornwell, Subtitler – Click here for subtitled version of this video.

On Friday 5th April 2013, David Padmore, Director of Access Services at Red Bee Media was interviewed on BBC Newswatch discussing how the company provides live subtitles for live television:

So next time you spot an error, hopefully you’ll be more aware of the technique and skill behind creating them in the first place. Don’t forget to hashtag with #subtitlefail! if you tweet any that you spot – share them – especially if they are funny πŸ˜‰