Closed Captioning: A Simple Process With Grand Potential

Months of production and planning work finally have paid off when those tapes are neatly packaged and ready to be shipped to the television stations. Suddenly, all that effort and sweat equity will turn into profits when your infomercial airs and viewers start dialing their phones to buy your product.

But before you deliver those tapes, consider this: Did you provide closed captions in your infomercial? Probably not, since the Federal Communications Commission's Telecommunications Act of 1996 “CC” policy was instituted only in January of this year and stations vary widely in their CC requirements.

Closed captioning — those two little words can send a chill down the spine of the marketer who is already overburdened with production issues, testimonials, media buying and the myriad of intricate elements that go into DRTV marketing. Now another element can be added to the basket, this one critical because many stations and cable networks will flat-out reject tapes that aren't closed-captioned.

As of Jan. 1, the FCC began requiring all broadcasters of video programming to provide at least 450 hours of captioned programming per calendar quarter, or five hours per day. Some stations meet the requirements with their current regular programming, while others do not. Lifetime, Comedy Central and Product Information Network, for example, already require infomercials to be closed-captioned, and more are expected to follow. Under FCC rules, each year over the next five years, a growing percentage of total new programming must be closed-captioned, reaching 100 percent in 2006.

Fortunately, the process isn't as complicated as it sounds. In fact, it's relatively simple, and the payoffs are potentially huge.

There are two styles of closed-captioning — roll-up and pop-up, with the latter being the preferred style for infomercials because the pop-ups don't block pertinent ordering information at the bottom of the screen.

The process works like this: First, the infomercial is captioned by transcribing the show onto a disk. Then, the information from the disk is encoded and placed onto a clone of the master. Essentially, it's a matter of captioning and encoding, a process that takes about five to seven days. Each new version of a show must go through the process, with cost and turnaround being the same for each version.

That extra week of production time is probably the biggest drawback for marketers because time is of the essence when it comes to getting infomercials finished and into the stations' hands. Fortunately, the cost is minimal. For a fee that ranges from $400 to $1,000 per master for a 30-minute infomercial, marketers are able to reach out to a new market that was previously unattainable. The proof of this potential is outlined in the following facts:

* The National Captioning Institute reports that the closed-caption market includes 24 million individuals who are either deaf or hearing impaired.

* That market also includes 3.7 million remedial readers, 27 million illiterate adults who are learning to read and 30 million people who are learning to speak and read English.

* Adding up the numbers, the market potential for the DRTV marketer who uses closed-captioning equals a grand total of 84.7 million TV viewers.

* The National Captioning Institute also reports that 66 percent of this market is more likely to buy products advertised with captions, 53 percent makes a special effort to look for products advertised with captions and 35 percent will change brands to buy a product advertised with captions instead of one that is not.

* Another advantage are those people in noisy bars, health clubs, airports and other locations that use closed-captioning on their TVs.

Just how do these numbers add up for the typical DRTV marketer? Based on the loose industry standard of one potential purchase per 100 viewers, a $20 offer that successfully reaches just one-quarter of that 84.7 million untapped viewer market would yield an additional 130,000 purchases, or $2.6 million in revenues. This conservative estimate is a sales boost that's hard to ignore, even for a hot product that's racking up big sales while being sold to only the traditional TV audience.

So far, only a handful of stations and networks require all infomercials to be closed-captioned; though, that is bound to change as the year progresses. Marketers and their production houses that think ahead and plan the extra time into their production schedules will avoid that deer-in-the-headlights feeling when the inevitable letter arrives from the station stating their infomercial will not air because it is not closed-captioned.

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