At a time when so few content providers on the Internet are offering closed captioned content, Hulu.com seems to be leading the way. Hulu not only offers integrated support in their video interface for closed captions but also allows users to limit search results to closed captioned content. It’s not easy to search for and locate captioned content on the Web. Hulu should be commended for making it easy to locate their site’s (albeit modest collection of) cc content.

A screenshot of Hulu search results showing closed captioned episodes.

No other distributor of television-type content on the Internet comes close. Indeed, the list of online providers that do not offer closed captioning is staggering. Caption Action 2, a blog devoted to securing support for “The Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (summary of act and full text), found only five major content providers or retransmitters that offer closed captioned content online — and seventy-seven that don’t. Only ABC, CNET, Fox, Hulu, and NBC offer cc content online.

Still, any attempt to include Hulu in a list of closed caption providers must take pains to note that few videos on Hulu are actually closed captioned. Hulu is leading the way at a time when so few providers are offering captions, but Hulu also has a long, long way to go.

Hulu adds new content and removes expiring content daily. I’ve been tracking the changes to Hulu’s content offerings over the last ten days, because I’m particularly interested in 1) what percentage of Hulu’s content is available with closed captions and 2) how or whether Hulu’s cc content is changing as a percentage of their overall content offerings.

The news isn’t good for accessibility on the Web. Over the last ten days, as Hulu has regularly added new full episodes and movies, and removed others that have contractually expired, the percentage of full episodes and movies with closed captions has actually gone down. Overall, that percentage of cc content is embarrassingly low, hovering at around 4.5% for full episodes and 6.5% for movies — and appears to be either static or on the way down. If there was ever an argument for the need to legally mandate closed captions on TV-type content redistributed over the Internet, this is it. Recall that much of Hulu’s content was closed captioned when it was broadcast on TV (because the FCC requires that all new TV content be closed captioned), so we are not talking about content that needs to be captioned from scratch, only retooled for rebroadcast on the Web.

A bar chart showing captioned v. non-captioned episodes on Hulu, Aug 7-16, 2009 .

Captioned v. non-captioned EPISODES on Hulu, Aug. 7-16, 2009
Hulu.com No. of episodes (cc) No. of episodes (non-cc) Episodes (total) Episodes (% cc)
8/7 1275 26286 27561 4.6261
8/8 1266 26403 27669 4.5755
8/9 1258 26539 27797 4.5257
8/10 1256 26575 27831 4.5130
8/11 1253 26683 27936 4.4853
8/12 1288 27659 28947 4.4495
8/13 1289 27712 29001 4.4447
8/14 1298 27820 29118 4.4577
8/15 1299 27855 29154 4.4556
8/16 1299 27849 29148 4.4566

A bar chart showing captioned v. non-captioned movies on Hulu, Aug 7-16, 2009 .

Captioned v. non-captioned MOVIES on Hulu, Aug. 7-16, 2009
Hulu.com No. of movies (cc) No. of movies (non-cc) Movies (total) Movies (% cc)
8/7 37 539 576 6.4236
8/8 37 540 577 6.4125
8/9 37 550 587 6.3032
8/10 37 549 586 6.3140
8/11 37 551 588 6.2925
8/12 37 550 587 6.3032
8/13 38 550 588 6.4626
8/14 38 552 590 6.4407
8/15 38 552 590 6.4407
8/16 38 552 590 6.4407

Closed caption users are at a serious disadvantage on Hulu. Unless Hulu makes a renewed commitment to offering more content with closed captions, I worry that the number of cc episodes will remain dismally low, or even continue to decline.

What can we do?