DOT to Mandate Closed Captioning on In-flight Entertainment – An update from the latest APEX industry technical conference, May 2015

Following the recent Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) technical conference, held in Los Angeles in May 2015 and attended by CMI’s technology staff, there is some news on the front of SDHH (Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, also referred to as Closed Captioning).

Change is definitely afoot in the airline in-flight entertainment (IFE) industry. It’s a movement that started nearly 10 years ago, but now seems to be picking up speed. The legislature to expand access to captioning and image narration in movie theaters and airplanes was first introduced in 2006. However, no official ruling was made. Since then, as the technology has improved and become easier to implement, some airlines have been adding closed captioning to their IFE, where feasible, by their own accord.

Three years ago, the issue gained critical mass once more for the mandatory implementation of closed captioning on IFE. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is expected to provide recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation by July 2015, followed by a 90-day public comment period. A ruling should be made by February 2016.

Obviously there are many benefits as well as concerns regarding the upcoming changes. This would be a step forward for the disability community. Airlines want to keep passengers happy, of course, but there are some valid concerns regarding practicality and cost.

Once closed captions satisfy the hard of hearing community, the vision-impaired will be next. The DOT has already proposed future rulemaking for audio descriptions on IFE. CMI is ahead of this and uniquely positioned to provide not only closed captioning, dubbing and subtitling services, but also scene audio descriptions.

Many questions remain about how the captioning will be mandated. Which languages will be included? Will it only be the language of the country of origin? Most U.S.-sourced IFE content comes with closed captioning. Local movie and TV content in other countries usually doesn’t. Will airlines have to offer closed captioning on all content that enters U.S. airspace? If a flight originates in Norway, would a Norwegian original language program need captioning in English and Norwegian before it can be shown on a flight that makes a stop at JFK?

It will be interesting to see the results that come out of this within the next few months as the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the DOT hash out the details.

CMI is a premier provider of post-production services nationwide with a special focus on international content. Drop us a line if you want to hear more.

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