Closed captioning!!!

by Dr. Kathryn Woodcock, 2001

Do I get excited about television captioning? What would you think if you couldn’t count on the program producer to provide a sound track without threat of lawsuits?

I don’t have all the proof, but I’ve organized some catering in my day, and until someone provides contrary information I contend that the typical production spends more money on sandwiches for the cast and crew than it does on captioning to make the program accessible to deaf and hard of hearing viewers. (I say ‘sandwiches’ metaphorically: a lot of them get fed much better than that.)

While some networks and producers are marvellous, there are too many who protest on principle against the ‘expense’ of closed captioning.

Don’t get me started on advertisersEvery boycott campaign is based on the principle that advertisers call the shots in broadcasting. When you consider that captioning a television commercial costs just a few hundred dollars even on a rush-overnight basis, why would any advertiser expect me to buy their goods or services without captioningCommercial captioning costs less than $300 per spot! (Source: National Captioning Institute, October 1997; call 713/917-7600.) Why would they even expect me to see their captioned commercials if they advertise on a program that isn’t captioned? Put program captioning in your contract before you buy advertising time.

Ten percent of the population has a hearing loss. Get a scratch pad and figure out how many deaf and hard of hearing people live in your town, work in your company, shop in local businesses and vote in this country.

Mobilize your indignation.

Captioning costs and the comparative production/acquisition information were provided by the National Captioning Institute in February 1997.


Production cost

Captioning cost


Made-for-TV movie




Primetime sitcom (.5hr)




Primetime drama (1 hr)




Soap opera (1 hr)




Regional sports (3hr)




Syndicated hour show




Other examples: 

  • In an 8-month period in 1995, Lifetime spent $100 million on original programming.
  • Lifetime paid $500,000 per episode to acquire 88 episodes of Chicago Hope.
  • Turner paid $1.2 million per episode for ER, considered the highest cable license fee ever paid for a series.
  • Lifetime paid $600,000 per episode to license 112 episodes of Ellen
  • fX paid $600,000 per episode to license The X Files.
  • USA network paid $75 million for a 4-year license term for 105 episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. Columbia Tri-Star also made separate deals to broadcasters for weekend runs of this series.
  • USA network will spend $175 million to develop digital programming for the 1996/1997 season, up from $140 million for the season before.