Fall Tech

San Jose's Civic Center Television Taps ENCO for Automated Captioning

As part of the City Manager’s Office at the City of San José, California, Civic Center Television records and broadcasts city council, committee, and select meetings to fulfill the city’s open government and transparency commitments. With the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to projected budget shortfalls, the department turned to ENCO’s AI-enabled enCaption4 automated closed captioning system to continue providing hard-of-hearing viewers with high-quality captions while reducing their operational costs.

The City of San José has long considered captioning to be extremely important to its accessibility mandates. “Early on, the city committed to closed captioning all of its televised content, not just because of FCC and ADA requirements, but also because it’s the right thing to do,” said Craig Jutson, Broadcast Engineering and Operations Manager, City Manager’s Office at the City of San José. “Of course, we extended that to our web content as well once we started streaming.”

For years, the municipal government had contracted with service providers that used human captioners to transcribe content. As the city began looking for operational savings across all of its departments this Spring, Jutson saw an alternative way to fund the closed captioning.

“As a PEG access channel, we have a capital fund that’s derived from the franchise and PEG fees the cable provider pays back to municipality,” Jutson explained. “We can’t use that for operational expenses such as paying human captioners, so I proposed that we save the money we were spending on those contracts and purchase an automated system.”

When Jutson first looked at AI-powered captioning several years ago, such systems were not yet sufficiently reliable and accurate for his needs. However, he found significant improvements when he evaluated the technology again this year, and enCaption4 stood out amongst the solutions he researched. “To me, enCaption4 was clearly superior to the others I looked at,” he said. “The form factor, the processing quality, the interface – everything seemed better to me. ENCO also partnered with Tightrope Media Systems, developers of the Cablecast automation and playout system we use, to make enCaption4 available to PEG stations as a special package.”

The city purchased a pair of enCaption4 units to support two live productions simultaneously and provide backup redundancy. The option to buy the units as a capital expense aligned perfectly with the city’s budget objectives, but the financial benefits didn’t stop there. “Even bundling a five-year support contract into the initial purchase, we calculated that the two enCaption units would pay for themselves in less than two years compared to what we were paying for human captioners,” said Jutson. “And after the two-year mark, we will be saving significant money.”

Jutson adds the names of council members, neighborhoods and other unique local elements into enCaption4’s dictionary to assist its captioning of hard-to-spell pronunciations, and has seen the systems learn and continue to improve since he started using them in mid-July. He also highlighted advantages that the automated systems offer over their human counterparts.

“We’ve had council meetings go as long as 13 hours recently,” Jutson explained. “When I watch them with closed captions, I see some really high-quality strings of perceptive and accurate captioning by the ENCO units that I didn’t used to get from human captioners after they’d been on the job for three to nine hours straight. Similarly, when one person is doing a long monologue, enCaption4 has been faster with fewer errors than human captioners sometimes are. enCaption4 doesn’t get tired and it’s very perceptive, so I believe it has done a really good job.”

In addition to captioning live meetings, Civic Center Television also uses enCaption4 to add captions to offline content from other city departments. enCaption4 generates standalone, ‘sidecar’ caption files from on-demand video clips that are copied into a watch folder. Jutson then takes advantage of Tightrope’s recent support for MCC and SCC caption files to bring the results into the city’s Cablecast video server and associate them with corresponding media for playout.

“The combination of enCaption and this recent Cablecast feature enables a new workflow that we use to add closed captions to almost everything on our play-to-air server,” said Jutson. “From live meetings to on-demand content, it’s easy for me to caption it. That’s a definite positive for us and for the public that’s watching our station.”

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