Another in a series of postings on CBC captioning (also see the separate page on the topic)

An enduring example of CBC stubbornness is its ridiculous and legally untenable overuse of scrollup captioning for fictional narrative programming, like dramas and comedies.


  • Scrollup captioning behaves as the word suggests: Text is assembled from left to right, then bumped up line by line to make room for new text. (Remember, scrolling is vertical; crawling, as on all-news networks, is horizontal.) Pop-on captions appear as discrete, fixed blocks until replaced by another caption or a blank screen.
    • Technically, you can add a paint-on caption without clearing an existing pop-on caption, but it is rarely done. (Teletext captions can add pop-on blocks to other pop-on blocks, but we don’t use teletext here.)
    • Live or real-time captions scroll up, but this discussion concerns pre-transcribed captioning that is merely presented in scrollup. (That’s called live-display captioning in certain unrelated contexts.)
    • There are surpassingly rare cases of live performance of a fictional program (E.R., Will & Grace, Fail-Safe) where you have to use scrollup, if only for the live airing(s).
  • You simply cannot understand fictional programming from scrollup captioning.
    • The pacing is all wrong. In fact, there pretty much is no pacing.
    • If there is any speaker identification at all, it’s done by explicitly writing out everybody’s name (or nobody’s).
    • Music and sound effects are a disaster.
    • Onscreen type gets clobbered (despite any insistence to the contrary – three decades later captioners are still screwing this up).
  • You are stuck with the task of reading constantly-moving, full-measure lines – doing so for hours at a time, no less. There hasn’t been a reading task like this in human history, and it’s pretty easy to argue we are not physiologically suited to it.
    • It’s my contention that scrollup captions interfere with normal saccadic reading. Then again, a lot of captioners think that people read word-by-word, so it may be best not to confuse them with the facts.
    • An eye-tracking study has already shown the obvious – that caption viewers spend most of their time looking at captions – but with scrollup captioning you can’t look anywhere else. Why? Because, during dialogue, music, and sound effects, the screen is always being refreshed with new words.
  • Deaf viewers never prefer scrollup captioning, in my experience. A large British study showed that deaf viewers object to it even for live newscasts where it is unavoidable (64% of a sample of 70 people; Jim Kyle, “Switched On,” 1992:77).

With scrollup captioning, your enjoyment of the program is ruined. You might as well just print out a transcript. It is that bad. Scrollup barely even works on nonfiction shows.

Before Line 21 and teletext were invented, scrollup captioning did not even exist. You almost never find it on DVD (in fact, it’s impossible on anything but NTSC discs) and you never see it at the movies. In the captioning ecosystem, scrollup is a lower form of life.

What is CBC’s bullshit excuse?

CBC chooses the use of scrollup over pop-on captions in many instances due to time and resource constraints…. Captioning with pop-on captions takes four times as long as captioning with scroll up captions.

In other words, CBC goes crying to mommy. “Waah! Pop-on caption is vewy, vewy hawd!” If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the captioning.

Why doesn’t CBC just caption everything in scrollup? Through a wholesale switchover to scrollup, couldn’t they caption four times as much programming? (Would it still be “captioning” then?) Why stay on the long, circuitous roadway when you can just drive across people’s lawns?

Now, while CBC claims that at most 37% of its programming is captioned in scrollup (already a high number), some programs are always captioned that way. There are some outrageous examples, like a modern version of Othello and various operas and most other segments on the arts program Opening Night. Those should be sufficient reason to shitcan the practice.

But there are two recurring examples of note – Coronation Street and Doctor Who.

  • Yes, Doctor Who, a program whose first season CBC received so far in advance that somebody bootlegged CBC’s tapes onto BitTorrent – yet still they used scrollup.
  • And yes, Coronation Street, a touchstone of CBC programming. If CBC reschedules the show by so much as half an hour, it’s flooded with complaints from CBC’s senior-citizen viewership, the group that wants CBC never to evolve, improve, or change for any reason.

Both those shows are captioned in scrollup. Hence, for fans of those shows, 100% of programming is scrollup-captioned. And I’d venture that a lot of Doctor Who fans do not otherwise watch the CBC, so for them 100% of CBC programming is scrollup-captioned.

Those shows retain their shitty scrollup captions even in repeats, even if those repeats air months after the first showings. (That’s a healthy leadtime to reformat a transcript into timed caption blocks.) And – get this! – the extros before commercials on Coronation Street – the ones telling us the program will be back in a moment – are captioned in pop-on while the rest of the show isn’t. The ad for the show is more important than the show itself.

What shows have pop-on captions?

What kinds of CBC programming are not captioned in scrollup?

Well, buried in its summer schedule are Godzilla movies running late Saturday nights. The country’s most boring blog, written by an heterosexualist male captioner at CBC, describes how he was actually able to choose which Godzilla movie to work on during some shifts. They all got done.

In pop-on captions. A shit job from what I can see, but pop-ons nonetheless.

So let’s recap

Two-hour, third-rate, 30-year-old dubbed monster movies that are broadcast when people with real lives are out having a good time
Pop-on captioning!
Japanese and Caucasian actors captioned in two onscreen blocks
Current, high-profile, prime-time half-hour dramas with a rabidly loyal viewership
Scrollup captioning!
Three-line scrollup caption, with speaker identification PETE:, cover part of an onscreen credit (DIRECTED BY)

Your tax dollars at work.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.08.09 12:02. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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