How closed captioning works

Do you ever wonder how television networks closed caption their shows 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

At any given time, you can click your remote and read in real time what the broadcasters or actors are saying. What a concept, but how does it get done so fast?

Meet our ESPN Program Compliance Team: It is responsible for organizing, tracking, and reporting our network closed captioning to the Federal Communications Commission. It’s a big job for a small group.

The FCC implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires broadcasters and cablecasters to provide captioned programs to their affiliates. Programming on every ESPN domestic network is required to be 100 percent closed captioned.

Closed Captioning is not only for the deaf and hard of hearing, but used at fitness centers, airports, bars, and often those learning to speak English. Did you know that 36 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, and more than 59,000 military members have disability status for hearing loss from current wars?

People who caption are generally trained as court reporters, using a special (steno) keyboard and individually constructed “dictionaries.”

The best of them are able to caption live, or “real-time,” and only a select few from that pool are able to caption sports.

See how it all comes together in the video above.

  • This is awesome! I was fortunate to be invited last year to ESPN with UFC Deaf fighter, Matt Hamill and our film, “The Hammer” (coming to select theaters October 27th). Great job ESPN Program Compliance Team.
    BTW: our movie is the first US open caption narrative feature.

  • Kevin Jenkins


  • Meredith Taylor

    I am proud Mom to one that you call “best”! Many years of appreciating closed captioning for us. It even helps young children learn words and spelling.

  • Tamara B

    What an exciting career!! I would definitely love to be part of that team! It may not be in my cards now, but if I work hard enough after Court Reporting School, just maybe that can happen! Great job on the video! ESPN Program Compliance Team you ROCK!

  • Hermine Willey

    Captioning and CART (Communication Assistive Real-Time Translation is so important for people who have a hearing loss. It also helps young children learning to read and those learning English as a second language. It is word-for-word transcription by the presenter. Some organizations may tell the hearing public that C-Print is the same as CART but it is definitely not. C-Print allows the the typist to use words that describe an idea and it is NOT word-for-word. Thus the person reading C-Print may miss important points being presented by the speaker. Public universities and colleges need to make this difference known when a hard of hearing person in college ask for an accommodation for their hearing loss.

  • Hermine Willey

    As a person with a severe hearing loss thanks for printing my opinion. Captioning and CART are both so necessary for people who are losing their hearing. It is especially needed now more than ever for our armed forces returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with hearing loss and deafness.

  • Stephen A. Zinone

    Great job, ESPN! You are #1 in bringing sports content to the World!
    Thank you for making all of your broadcasts accessible to EVERYONE!

  • Tim Stewart

    Why is the SEC Network, SEC Now not captioned? I’ve excitedly waited for the debut of the network, to be disappointed, po’ed and offended it’s NOT CAPTIONED. I HOPE THIS WILL CHANGE!

  • ESPNFrontRow


    FCC requires the network to be fully captioned in four years and we plan to accelerate that process by captioning significant blocks of content in year one. Closed captioning will be included for all football games and all Saturday programming surrounding those games. We are in the process of evaluating resources to provide captioning for all SEC Network programming.

    Thank you,
    ESPN Front Row