Closed-Captioning Can Be DRTV Boon

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For perhaps the first time in its history, the federal government is forcing something on our industry that could actually increase our profits in explosive proportions. This mandate, included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, legally requires that all infomercials longer than 10 minutes be closed-captioned in the first quarter of 2000.


Those cable stations requiring closed-captioning for the first quarter - starting this month - include Lifetime, Comedy Central and the Product Information Network. However, by 2002, all cables will actually be compliant because of Federal Communications Commission closed-captioned programming.


When the facts are taken into account, this is something we should have thought of ourselves. The closed-caption market is huge. According to the National Captioning Institute, and other sources, this market includes 24 million deaf and hard-of-hearing, 3.7 million remedial readers, 27 million illiterate adults learning to read and 30 million people learning English. This adds up to 84.7 million TV viewers that until now had to ignore infomercials that were not closed-captioned.


We won't even consider the millions of people who are not hard of hearing but who once in a while watch closed-captioned television programming in bars, restaurants, health clubs and airports, where ambient noise overpowers the audio.


The 84.7 million viewers are just like other people who watch television. They want to lose weight, get in shape, make money, work smarter in the kitchen, shine their cars - you name it. About the only thing our industry offers they might not want is an all-audiotape product.


Furthermore, according to the National Captioning Institute, 66 percent of this market are more likely to buy products advertised with captions, 53 percent make a special effort to look for products advertised with captions, and 35 percent will change brands to buy a product advertised with captions.


Now work the numbers. Suppose your net on an offer is $20. For the sake of argument, further suppose that only one-quarter of 1 percent of that 66 percent of the 84.7 million mentioned buy that offer. That comes to 130,000 purchases that might not otherwise have been made. In dollars, that's $2.6 million in extra revenue. Granted, these figures may be all wrong. But even if only one-tenth of this guesstimate is closer to the truth, we're still making money on the deal.


The reason is that preparing a closed-captioned infomercial is not very expensive. In general, the costs range from $300 to about $1,000 per 30-minute program. The average cost is $520. As far as I'm concerned, I'll fork over $520 to get $2.6 million - or $260,000, or $26,000 or even $2,600 - back any day!


Yet another law, the U.S. Decoder Circuitry Act of 1991, has made sure that audience is being delivered to us. Under this law, every television set sold in the United States since 1993 has had to be caption ready. By 1997, this had resulted in 85 percent of U.S. television households having caption-ready televisions. According to estimates, the saturation will reach 100 percent by next year.


Even with all the work being done for us, we still have to approach this opportunity in the same creative and thoughtful ways we do all other aspects of our campaigns. Closed captioning is not just something you tack on to an existing program without any forethought. The nature of the program will determine which of the two closed-captioning techniques are used: the roll-on or the pop-on methods.


The roll-on method is familiar to anyone who has watched a closed-captioned sports event. A window with three lines of rolling text is somewhere on the screen, usually at the bottom. This type of captioning is best used when there is only one person speaking and if it's a voice-over.


If there is more than one person on the screen and they are all involved in dialogue, the pop-on captioning is better. With the pop-on, one caption can be positioned at the left for the person on the left and one at the right for the one on the right, and so on. This eliminates confusing the viewer.


Whatever method is used, you must be sure that important parts of the visual image are not covered up by the caption. Experience has shown that the deaf and hard-of-hearing are very loyal to advertisers who make an effort to make it easy for them and not cover up the graphics. It's frustrating to watch a program when a graphic is covered up and you can't tell what it is. Never let the caption get in the way of what's going on.


One aspect of all this that is of little or no concern is the placement of a special TDD or TYY number onscreen. You don't have to do it. People who are accustomed to watching closed-captioned programs know that not everything that is in the caption is what is being said. You can keep your usual toll-free number onscreen and have the caption give the TDD number at the same time. The deaf and hard-of-hearing know what's going on and it doesn't bother them. It's something special just for them and they appreciate it.
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