SMPTE makes closed-captioning standard available for Internet video

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) announced that it would make its standard for closed-captioning of online video content available free of charge, addressing the desperate need for captioned material across the Internet.

"While no technology is ever perfect," said SMPTE president Pete Ludé, "we can make life easier for people with disabilities around the world by setting a baseline standard today that is open enough to allow for specific innovations — and we welcome all those interested in accessibility to join our efforts."

Known as SMPTE Timed Text (SMPTE 2052), the action by the standards organization comes as the FCC prepares to adopt rules to ensure individuals with disabilities can fully utilize Internet-delivered video content.

The standard provides a common set of instructions for authoring and distributing captions or subtitles for broadband video content. This design means that TV content providers need only use one method for providing captions rather than custom approaches for different Web browsers or media players.

"SMPTE Timed Text enables broadcasters to expand the use of their existing TV captions into the online media space, while ensuring the preservation of their integrity," said Clyde Smith, senior vice president, Global Broadcast Technology, Turner Entertainment Networks and a SMPTE Fellow. "Its use will permit the industry to more rapidly migrate programming with captions to the Web and ensure that all consumers' online experiences will be at least as rich as they enjoy on TV today."

SMPTE material on the standard is available for download at and A FAQ about the standard and its use is available at

The new standard is media device and media player agnostic, leaving manufacturers free to develop a wide range of products without worrying about interoperability issues. It works in much the same way that companies develop plug-in modules for Web browsers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54.4 million people reported some level of disability and 35 million reported a severe disability in 2005.

"This is an underserved audience that simply wants to enjoy the same kind of online and Web-enabled programming as the rest of us," said Jenifer Simpson, senior director for government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities.

SMPTE is working on the standard in collaboration with the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), an umbrella organization that advocates for people with disabilities, on this effort.