Interview: The Art Of Closed Captioning With CaptionMax

Blake Harris 10.08.2015

No matter what kind of animated video you’re looking for–be it an explainer video, whiteboard animation, or something else entirely–CaptionMax is a name you ought to know…

Here at IdeaRocket, quality is everything. But we can’t do it all alone. So to produce our best work, we rely on a variety of outside partners. In the past, we’ve highlighted some of these talented service providers—like Tom’s Planner and Voice123—but today we wanted to highlight the services of company called CaptionMax.

CaptionMax, headquartered in Minnesota, is currently one of the country’s largest closed captioning and media accessibility companies. The company has additional offices in Burbank and Manhattan, serves several notable clients (including NBCUniversal, Viacom Media Networks and Sony Pictures Entertainment) and has over a hundred employees. But of course, like all companies, it didn’t start that way. In fact, it started with just one person: Max Duckler.

Throughout the 80s, Max worked as an editor/compositor in Minnesota and California. Then, in 1992, his entrepreneurial vision led him to found a company of his own. “He realized that there was going to be a growing need for closed captioning services,” explains Anna Nowak, a Marketing Specialist for CaptionMax. “Because of FCC mandates that would be taking effect over time, he seized the opportunity to become the best in the industry.”

In 1993, CaptionMax got its first captioning contract from Hazelden. Four years later—in 1997—the company won its first Department of Education grant and held its inaugural Consumer Advisory Board meeting. CaptionMax has recently secured another Television Access Grant from the Department of Education. The funding will be used to add video description to 800 hours of educational programming over the next five years and provides another example of how CaptionMax is living up to its corporate mission: “making all media accessible to all people.”

To get a peak at life inside of CaptionMax, we spoke further with Anna Nowak (below)

Q&A with Anna Nowak (Marketing Specialist, CaptionMax)

IdeaRocket: How did you wind up at CaptionMax? What attracted you to the company?

Anna Nowak: I started working at CaptionMax in May 2011, shortly after I had returned from a year of teaching English in Busan, South Korea. I was looking for freelance writing and editing jobs on Craigslist and saw a listing that said: Caption Editor is a cool job. I love television with all my heart and am passionate about accessibility and equal rights, so after reading the description I was pretty confident that I would be a good fit for the position.

IR: And was it?

AN: As soon as I walked into our Minneapolis headquarters, I felt right at home. After 2.5 years in production, I moved into sales. IdeaRocket was actually one of my first (and favorite!) clients. Pretty soon after starting in sales, I decided that I would rather be in marketing, so I worked out a strategy to make that happen, but I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about business and client relationships from being in sales that has been essential in my marketing role.

IR: In what ways has the company grown since you’ve joined?

AN: We’re constantly adapting to the needs of our clients.  On the broadcast side, there has been a huge drive towards OTT, so helping clients determine the exact deliverable they need for each streaming platform has become a big part of the sales process.

IR: Can you tell me a little more about some other changes you’ve seen?

AN: CaptionMax established itself as a media accessibility leader with our closed captioning service, but we’ve also been instrumental in creating best practices and an industry standard for video description (also known as audio description and descriptive video service), and we are extremely proud of that. As time goes on and mandates for video description from the CVAA continue to take effect, our video description department will grow larger.

IR: CaptionMax is, of course, not the only company to offer these services. That said, in our opinion we think it’s the best. Can you tell me about what keeps you guys ahead of the competition?

AN: I think clients seek us out because of our technical expertise and passion for making media accessible to everyone, but personalized attention and responsive customer service is what keeps them coming back. And for clients who are very concerned about efficiency and keeping their assets secure, knowing they can get a wide range of services under one roof and not have to go back and forth between vendors is a huge draw.

IR: Although it might be hard to put this into words, you could talk a little bit about the influence of founder Max Duckler and his leadership style?

AN: Max is a very cool and fun-loving person, and that has had tremendous influence over our brand and company culture. As I already said, as soon as I stepped into our office for my interview four years ago, I felt at home and like I could fully be myself. I have made some of my best friends here.

IR: That’s great to hear. And so much of that culture comes from the top down. What else can you tell me about Max?

AN:  He is extremely willing to invest in people and their ideas. At the very beginning of 2014, I had recently taken over our social media accounts and decided to pitch an idea to him for an annual video description contest as a way of educating clients and consumers about the service. He immediately loved it and helped me work with our agency, e10, to develop it into something even greater than I had initially imagined. And now our Just Add Words video description contest is in its second year.

IR:  Without revealing the “secret sauce,” can you give me a brief overview of how the process works? Does it differ greatly by language?

AN: After we’ve confirmed the exact deliverables (languages, caption/subtitle export, etc.) a client needs, they deliver their video file to us, and our fabulous Multilanguage Project Manager, Alicia Perez, assigns it to a translator.  In general, the process does not vary greatly by language. Translation is an art, and we recognize the subjectivity that can go along with that, so we offer our clients an approval phase so they can make sure their message is getting across just as they intended.

IR: One last question…I’m sure that your job requires you to wear many hats, but do you have a favorite responsibility?

AN: This is tough, but if I had to pick a favorite responsibility, it would be coordinating with our Consumer Advisory Board, which is composed of researchers, teachers, and students. They provide us with critical feedback so we can ensure our final product meets the needs of the end user.  I love getting to hang out with them at our annual board meeting, and most of them have kindly volunteered to be judges for our Just Add Words contest.

To learn more about CaptionMax and see how they can assist with your media needs, please visit the company’s website:

Blake Harris

Blake Harris is the author of "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation."
Blake Harris

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