T minus 14 days to ATypI Brighton 2007: Captioning

If you watch captioned TV (not “subtitled” TV in any sense) for two hours a night five nights a week for a year, you’ll read over 4 million words. That’s a lot of words. We’ve been putting a lot of working into making the type on office-computer screens more readable (on Windows, mostly). But that isn’t all we’re reading offa screens.


Jensema (1996) surveyed reading speeds of many television genres and display forms (scrollup vs. pop-on). Working solely from his reported averages, in words per minute (wpm) and per hour (wph):

  • Scrollup: 151 wpm = 9,060 wph
  • Pop-on: 138 wpm = 8,280 wph

Assume 25% of your viewing is scrollup, 75% pop-on. Two hours a night, then, equals:

0.25 × 2 × 9,060 + 0.75 × 2 × 8,280 = 16,950 words/night

Over 5 nights a week for 52 weeks, you’re reading 4,407,000 words a year.

If we assumed all scrollup captioning, the figure is 4,711,200. With all pop-on captioning, it’s 4,305,600. So the order of magnitude is the same.

Even if you do the same calculation with the very slowest captioning reported by Jensema (74 wpm), simply an impossible scenario even for young children abandoned in front of the TV by their moms, the order of magnitude is still comparable – 2.3 million. (With the maximum, 231 wpm, it’s 7.2 million.)

That’s a lot of words. While you’re lying on the couch. And relaxing. And not “working.” Now you can see why I think caption fonts are important.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.08.29 14:25. 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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