What's up with sanitized closed captions?
August 12, 2017 7:04 AM   Subscribe

R-rated movie on Amazon captioned as if it's on broadcast TV. What gives?

Last night I watched Gone Baby Gone on Amazon streaming. I was surprised to see that the closed captions were sanitized:

"Keep your freakin' mouth closed, mother bugger!"

"She's a real creep!" [for c*nt]
"Don't ever use that word?"

"You god darn monkey lover!"

"That's bullspit!"

They also captioned "bastard" as "retard," as if that's somehow less offensive.

The spoken dialogue wasn't dubbed or otherwise changed. But the captions were. How does that happen? Why? Any insight you might have will be welcome.
posted by Orlop to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They are probably just saving money. They would have to pay someone (a subtitler/captioner) to re-do the captions and add the file to the film again. Amazon and Netflix are really cheap with subtitles and captions, they brought the prices in the whole market down. That's my guess.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:44 AM on August 12, 2017

Amazon/Netflix/et al generally don't review audio, video, or subtitles for correctness, leaving that to producers and their vendors. Sometimes vendors upload incorrect caption streams to these providers. These errors can include sync issues, pervasive misspelling of characters and dialog, or captions from different cuts of the feature.

There's little economic incentive to fix this after the fact—what are you going to do, cancel Amazon Streaming because the captions on Mr Selfridge are terrible? Even if you complain, the error will go down as a black mark on the licensor's and vendor's submission ratings, and likely no change will be made. (Yes, just like individual items and seller accounts, streaming content partners get ratings as well.)

It happens with audio and video too. One episode of Fawlty Towers on Netflix has two different arrangements of the opening theme playing over each other, and I've lost count the number of films shown on these platforms that have cropped aspect ratios or use time compressed masters that skip frames and speed up audio to match.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hello! Complaining about bad closed captioning is one of my hobbies.

I don't know for sure, but my guess when they're like this, it's just because they want to reuse the same closed captioning for the regular adult version and any (future) edited for TV versions as well.

I'm not sure if this applies to Amazon as well, but Netflix kind of got in trouble for their shitty closed captioning a while back, so if you go to your viewing activity and select that you had problems with something, closed captioning is one of the categories you can choose, and because they were in trouble for it, they were having to compile all the bad captioning reports for the DOJ, I think it was. I have no idea if that order's still in place, or if Amazon has anything similar, but here is a place to make official closed captioning complaints, which indicates to me that they know they could get in trouble if they haven't already.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:50 AM on August 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

I hear what you are saying, this is captioning that is specifically wrong in a "This might have been an R-rated word and they've substituted a PG-13 word in its place" way. This might have to do with the morality standards of the people that the streaming services hire to do the (often sloppy) job. This article--How Netflix alienated and insulted its deaf subscribers--looks at some of the ways captioning goes wrong. I, too, am curious about this question however. I figure if a place is paying for captioning they may want to do it in a way that allows them potentially to use it for TV network airplay as well?
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Every captioned show I've ever seen come through a post facility had a matching caption stream, so one for the theatrical/payTV cut, one for the censored/freeTV cut, one that accommodates fades to black for commercial insertion, etc. Could be I've just been fortunate enough to only work with clients who could afford to do that though. There was also a lot more money available to properly distribute content and much more profit to be made when I started.

Industry-wide, I've seen the overall quality of captions drop dramatically over the past fifteen years. Offshoring is part of that, as is lower production budgets and tighter margins, and so is increased demand. In the US, the largest market for English media, the FCC allows only a minute amount of error in captions ("de minimis"), but the FCC doesn't effectively regulate cable content or Internet streaming content.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2017

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