BCCS Closed for Business – How the Captioning Landscape Has Shifted

 

On February 29, 2016, the Canadian captioning company BCCS (Broadcast Captioning & Consulting Services Inc.) closed its doors for good, declaring bankruptcy and shocking their clients and captioners with the sudden news.

There was no warning given.  Many clients heard from an outside source, while the captioners had to wake up to social media posts and emails from colleagues, includithe captioning groupng TCG, about the bankruptcy.

Some broadcasters recognized the downfall before it began, shifting their services elsewhere before the bankruptcy was officially announced.  Captioners began to notice the change in atmosphere as well—being promised payment that never came, cheques that bounced, and unease among their colleagues.  The lucky ones decided to shift their work to other captioning companies, while others stuck with it, hoping for an optimistic outcome.

This abrupt bankruptcy not only shocked captioners and broadcasters alike, but it had a large effect on the state of the captioning industry in Canada and North America as a whole.  If a large, seemingly successful, company drops off the scene in under 24 hours, what sort of stability remains among those left standing?  Does it succeed in instilling further trust and comradery between captioners, clients, and broadcasters looking toward a better captioning climate for years to come?  Or does this change affect the way broadcasters view captioning companies…  One thing is certain—captioners, and the companies they work for, provide an invaluable service when anyone who enjoys broadcasts with closed captioning.  When this experience is knocked down by poor service, lack of quality captions, or a non-committal attitude to improve and grow, the product suffers.

This sudden change put many full-time contractors’ workloads to zero.  For many, it was a loss of over half of their captioning hours.  the captioning groupAlthough the captioners are treated as independent contractors for their services, professional captioners have a loyalty to their company and a dedication to the service they provide.

Many outside the affected circle began to pose the question, What made them stay?  As KJ Mullins suggests in a recent article, “freelancers often are owed money for their services.  In the past the company may have been late but they paid.”  With months from their last honoured cheque, it leaves a large disparity between their last payment and their next, even though the flow of work never stopped.

In the same article by KJ Mullins, the captioners were described as being “owed over $340K in total wages, [and] are having to turn to crowd funding in order to survive.”  Since then, more captioners have come forward, and the total is a stunning $407,000 owed.

The captioners who have been affected by BCCS’s sudden insolvency have started a GoFundMe page.  The page is accepting donations for the over $400,000 owed to them in unpaid wages.  Women have shared their stories, some feeling the devastating loss of now knowing they will never see payment for the large sums owed to them for their contracted services.  Many outside the captioning industry do not realize that captioners are responsible for purchasing almost all of their own equipment—from expensive software and new steno machines to equipment maintenance and satellite installations, not to mention all the backups that are required.  This career path, though rewarding, takes commitment to get off the ground, and the loss of a guaranteed income can be very serious.  The page has already raised over $11,000, and any funds will be split amongst the captioners.  If they reached their goal, any remaining donations would be given to the National Association of the Deaf.

BCCS has made their mark on Canadian captioning since they began, and their closure means they will continue to leave a mark—it is up to the captioning community to decide what direction this change will take us.

12 thoughts on “BCCS Closed for Business – How the Captioning Landscape Has Shifted

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  5. Hi,
    My name is Terry and I left my info at the website set up by the captioners, I started with Brian Hallahan at BCCS un the year 2000 and was with him for 10 years. I worked only for bccs 6 days a week, weekends and holidays. Not only did any of us receive a raise, however we were given a pay cut in 2008 citing the recession as the cause. In my case as well as the other captioners were given no notice of a layoff as we were all kept dangling, waiting while once again we were deceived into believing that the work would come. This was in 2010 and needless to say we were out of our jobs and not able to collect employment insurance due to our freelance status. Brian only hired women, which he told me and within a year he had one of his mistresses running the company, eventually becoming vice president. The layoff ruined my life for years as my 25 years in the film industry and captioning and I was forced to take a minimum wage job as well as collecting welfare as you cannot survive in T.O. on a minimum wage job. I am also a mature woman and I was competing against 20 year olds. Anyways I would love to be contacted by the captioners, not for money but to show my support and if any information I have may be useful to them. Just to finish off with my tale of woe, as Brian refused to tax me at source, which I constantly asked him to do but he refused and I ended up spending $50,000 to pay the government off and then I filed for bankruptcy. So please do contact me as I would love to help the caotioners out.

    Regards,
    Terry

  6. Terry, I would like to hear more of your story. What reason were you given for the layoff? I’ve heard many people were let go over the years, yet BCCS were always saying they needed more captioners.

  7. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for posting your response. I was never given a reason as they never said anything about being “laid off”. They just had the poor woman who was the coordinator for scheduling lie to me that there was no work. However, she kept promising that there would be work as they had a contract with Bell and she was just waiting for delivery. Finally after many months I stopped calling and never heard from them again. A few years later when I was having a really hard time supporting myself I emailed Christina begging for work, (Brian’s mistress and at that time promoted to vice-president) and she coldly responded that she had spoken to Brian and because of the new technology there was no work. By the way, I don’t know if this is relevant but I was hired by Brian. I don’t know Anna if you are in the states or here in Canada. I am eager and happy to help all you guys out if you feel my experience would be of any use to you. Anyways, it is great to be a part of this because for years now I was wondering about the inevitable karma. It’s good to see it works. Hope to hear from you or your coworkers.
    P.S. I wasn’t a real time captioner, I did post.

    Please reply

    1. My wife worked at BCCS for a few years, and her time there was very similar to what you have said, Terry. We were still young and it was her first job in the television industry which is probably the only reason why she was there as long as she was. She just didn’t know any better.

      Yes, Brian had an unofficial policy to only hire young women or women who were new to Canada. If a resume looked too experienced or if it “sounded like a man’s name” they would throw it into the trash. This was obviously how he maintained control over his employees — by hiring people that he could bully and didn’t know their rights.

      Captioners were expected to output more per day than any other captioning house at the time, and they were expected to stay until their work was done, often meaning 12 hours shifts, but were not paid overtime. They would also often work on weekends which he justified by providing lunch or tickets to Blue Jays games. The “joke” while my wife was there was that it was basically “sweatshop captioning”.

      There are a million other stories that could be told. Brian was a shrewd businessman who treated his employees terribly, but hired people that he could bully and keep his costs low. That’s probably the only reason why the company was able to stay afloat as long as it did. I hope that by all of this finally coming out, people will not do business with him should he start another company. It’s unfortunate that an organization providing such an important service was so terrible to their employees.

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