In mid-September, I wondered aloud on Facebook and other online forums about the Mashable article on the upcoming fall season of Bravo’s Top Chef, which will for the first time include Web episodes in its storyline. Will the webisodes, like the on-air episodes, be captioned by Bravo? More video entertainment is moving to the Web, and captioning has not always followed suit, to the annoyance of deaf viewers who have long relied on closed-captioning on television. So, as a passionate home cook who enjoys watching Top Chef characters like Fabio, Richard, and Carla fire it up in the kitchen, I contacted someone at Bravo to find out.
In time for tonight’s Top Chef Texas premiere comes great news: I was informed by Bravo that the webisodes will be closed-captioned on Hulu.com. According to my source there, Bravo has supplied Hulu with the captioned content, and the first captioned webisode will air at the conclusion of the second on-air episode of Top Chef Texas. More will follow as the season continues.
This was not required by law, even by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CCVA”). The CCVA requires that closed-captioned content originally broadcast on television must also be closed-captioned if aired on the Web. Enforcement of that rule does not start until next year, and even then, there is contention between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and deaf organizations on the definition of web programming that is “generally considered comparable to programming provided” by a TV station.
Other television shows do re-air on Hulu with closed captions, but they are exact copies of what is broadcast on television, and will be clearly enforced by CCVA starting next year. “Top Chef Texas” is an unusual case because the webisodes carry different content from what is shown on broadcast television. This is indeed the future of video entertainment, as networks increasingly integrate their broadcast and web content. Unfortunately, as more video content goes online, the record of online captioning among networks has been mixed. While MSNBC provides captioning of its online news clips, CNN does not. For that, CNN has been hit with a lawsuit in California by the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD) and other plaintiffs.
Bravo became proactive in this regard. It went ahead and captioned the webisodes as they are considered part of Top Chef Texas’ entire storyline. As the Mashable article mentioned, eliminated contestants get a second chance in the webisodes, with the winner of that online competition appearing in the on-air finale.
Kudos to Bravo for a job well done! Not just as an avid cook, but as a deaf person with a vested interest in ensuring that video content on the Web is as accessible to the deaf as broadcast television.
Efforts like the one done by Bravo and its parent, NBC Universal, increase goodwill between consumers and providers, and help build positive brand perception. As the U.S. population of people with hearing loss increases with aging baby boomers losing their hearing, and needing captions to follow programming on the TV and the web, this is a win for everyone — both for people with deafness, and their families.