“Good evening comma and welcome to this Vote 2014 leaders’ debate dash our first debate of the election campaign dash the first time David Cunliffe and John Key have come face to face.”
This was the first captioned sentence of the first Vote 2014 leaders’ debate on TV ONE on Thursday 28 August. Although it looks strange to read the sentence with the punctuation written out in full, this was exactly what the captioner said as they spoke into their headset microphone, triggering the speech-recognition software to turn their voice into typed words which were then sent to air as a caption.
That’s right, live captioning of the election coverage isn’t about being a rapid touch-typist, furiously hammering at the keyboard to try and type up everything that’s said. We are instead using speech-recognition technology, which is not dissimilar to using Siri to dictate a text message on an iPhone. As long as you speak clearly and enunciate the dialogue and punctuation, the software promptly creates sentence after sentence of captions at a much faster rate than can be achieved with touch-typing.
The system usually works best when the people speaking on television are talking one at a time and at a measured and slow pace. Unfortunately, it appears the politicians didn’t get the memo about that. The reality of the debates is the dialogue is rapid-fire, full of interjections and also packed with facts, figures and names. Within the team of four election respeakers, we take caption accuracy seriously, and we do our best to keep pace with the speakers and spell MP’s names and electorates correctly. The team has spent a few weeks learning pertinent words and training the speech-recognition software to recognise the way we say those words. We have also practised respeaking some interviews and panel debates from TV ONE’s political programme Q+A to increase our stamina and enhance our political knowledge.
On the evening of Saturday 20 September, we will be geared up to respeak the live election-night coverage. Some of the coverage may include pre-recorded segments, and the presenter may use an autocue script at various points throughout the programme. Fortunately, we will have access to these elements so some of the captions can be prepared verbatim. But for the most part, we will be trying to keep pace with the live broadcast and respeak the dialogue as quickly and accurately as we can and send the captions to air with little delay. It can be mentally taxing, but we will rotate between the four of us and rest our voices in the ad breaks. Because we’re concentrating so hard, the five hours of election coverage will be over in a flash!
Watch the leaders’ debate at 7pm on TV ONE on Wednesday 17th September and election-night coverage from 7pm on TV ONE on Saturday 20th September. Captions available.