Blog: Pooch kicks and pistol formations - captioning the Super Bowl

Blog, Captioning, Live events, Respeaking 22 Feb 2016
Super Bowl Jy 552 547 S C1

Jim Nantz

pistol formation

Aqib Talib

Luke Kuechly


dual-threat quarterback

Bene Benwikere


Vince Lombardi Trophy

pooch kick

n-possession game

Levi’s Stadium

Britton Colquitt

That is a small selection of the more than 600 words that the four-strong team of captioners had to learn to be prepared to live caption the Super Bowl 50 on TV ONE a couple of weeks ago. For live events such as this, Able captioners use speech recognition software. They listen to what is being said on the live feed and then ‘respeak’ what they hear into a small microphone attached to their headset. After months of general training with the software to help it learn your particular voice and way of speaking, and a few weeks of training specifically for the Super Bowl, the aim is for the software to understand what you say and convert it into text on the screen. The captioner then quickly skims the text for any errors and sends it out as a live caption. All the while they’re still listening out for the next thing that is said so they don’t miss vital pieces of information. For an event like the Super Bowl, where there is no scripted material, we try to have a team of people who can work on the event for about half an hour at a time, as it is very intense respeaking.

Despite our training, there are often times where the software mishears what is said. Sometimes this can be a simple homonym, ‘where’ instead of ‘wear’, often it is the little words in a sentence that the software has the most trouble with, so ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, for instance. The captioner has to make a judgement call as to whether the mishearing will affect the viewers’ understanding enough that they spend precious time fixing up caption up or leave it as is. Often with small mishearings like this, viewers will still be able to understand what is being said, and so rather than getting further behind the live broadcast, a caption like ‘There is never been a punt return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history’  is sent out rather than fixing it up to what was actually said: ‘There has never been a punt return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.’

However, sometimes mishearings can lead to captions that make sense but are incorrect or captions that don’t make sense at all. For instance, ‘quarterback’ and ‘cornerback’ don’t sound so different to the software, but they are completely different positions in American football,  so if the caption said ‘The cornerback for Denver is Peyton Manning’ we would try to correct that by manually deleting ‘cornerback’ and typing in ‘quarterback’ before sending the caption out.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without the famous half-time show. All we knew going into the Super Bowl was that Coldplay were the headliners and they would have special guests Beyonce and Bruno Mars. Knowing this, we took a guess at the possible songs they might perform and had captions for these already prepared. When Beyonce released a new song the day before the Super Bowl, we knew that was one we wanted to have ready to go. 

The Super Bowl was a great event to be involved in. And it was worth all the training and effort involved to know that we were bringing something to our caption viewers that had never been seen in New Zealand. As one of our followers on Facebook wrote, the last time they had seen the Super Bowl with captions was 26 years ago - in Colorado! 

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