Kevin The Poyner? Subtitles on TV leaving fans confused... with Amazon Prime and Sky Sports both showcasing big errors in the on-screen text during Premier League fixtures over Christmas

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Kevin The Poyner? Subtitles on TV leaving fans confused... with Amazon Prime and Sky Sports both showcasing big errors in the on-screen text during Premier League fixtures over Christmas

  • Deaf and hard-of-hearing football fans were let down by poor subtitles in games 
  • One set of captions declared Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne as The Poyner  
  • Others omit entire chunks of speech because of human transcribing mistakes 
  • Both Sky Sports and Amazon Prime have been accused of the subtitling issues 

Football fans watching subtitled Premier League action over the festive break would have been forgiven for wondering whether gremlins had taken hold of the system.

The World Cup winner George Cohen, whose death was marked with a minute’s silence around the grounds, was transcribed as George Owen.

Anyone watching Manchester United’s win over Nottingham Forest would have seen the pundit Patrice Evra presented as Patrice Vieira, while Kevin de Bruyne was named both The Poyner and Kevin to Breiner during Manchester City’s win at Leeds.

Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne was accidentally called 'The Poyner' in the live subtitles

Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne was accidentally called 'The Poyner' in the live subtitles

Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne was accidentally called 'The Poyner' in the live subtitles

The errors did not end there, the typists employed by Amazon Prime to transcribe the commentary apparently struggling with Ally McCoist’s contributions. 

During the match at Elland Road, the former Scotland international listed some of his most celebrated compatriots to have played for Leeds, including Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Eddie Gray and Gordon Strachan, only for the subtitles to overlook the list entirely and wait for the commentary to return to the action.

Such poor captioning is not the preserve of live football, of course. Broadcasters have fallen prey to them as long as the service has been available. 

Ally McCoist's speech listing Scottish Leeds players was skipped by Amazon Prime subtitles

Ally McCoist's speech listing Scottish Leeds players was skipped by Amazon Prime subtitles

The more memorable in recent times have included the BBC describing the official mode of royal transport as ‘cabbages’ rather than carriages, presenter Dan Walker noting the British fondness for ‘killing’ during Wimbledon, even though he said ‘queuing’.

Amazon say they employ palantypists, or speech-to-text reporters, rather than use artificial intelligence. These trained experts are said to provide more reliable subtitles than those systems that rely on AI.

Sky Sports employ ‘respeakers’ who repeat the commentary in a studio for AI to then transcribe it. The BBC are also said to use a team of respeakers, apparently a point of contention in the captioning industry because they are cheaper than palantypists.

‘If I have a client who says, “I think you’re using a respeaker”, they mean that in a derogatory fashion because the captions don’t quite flow in the same way, unless you have a very good respeaker,’ says Victoria Ward, of the company 121 Captions.

‘This is usually because the speakers are either tidying what the AI has said or they’ve trained the AI to respond to short, coded words, which leads to AI providing captions that are chunky.

‘It’s often also hard to find typists with the knowledge of the subject they’re covering. You have to really dig around. Otherwise, mistakes creep in. If you’re a speech-to-text reporter, you’ve had to go through four years of training. 

'You’ve had to invest in a specialist [stenography] machine, and they’ll often have two as a back-up. But we still get applicants for work who’ve done an online course for 16 weeks.’

Subtitlers must invest in specialist stenography machines, and the skill takes years to master

Subtitlers must invest in specialist stenography machines, and the skill takes years to master

The mistakes committed during last week’s football might have been comical for some, but it is a serious issue for the significant number of people who rely on the subtitles to inform their viewing. 

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People 12 million people are registered deaf or hard of hearing in the UK.

Rebecca Mansell, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, said: ‘Unfortunately the quality is all too often unacceptably poor. Try switching the sound off your TV and following the gobbledygook yourself!

‘Subtitles are not only vital for deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing people, but also for older people and those for whom English is not a first language.’

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