Video Essentials

Providing YouTube Video Captions Is an Inclusive Move for Brands

Why should brands include closed captions in their videos?

“Using captions is just the right thing to do,” said Ken Harrenstein, captions software engineer at YouTube, during the session “Captions @ YouTube” during VidCon 2017. Both he and YouTube captions product manager Liat Kaver are deaf, and they delivered the presentation via a sign language interpreter and captions created by a transcriptionist and shown on a screen in front of the lectern.

There’s a difference between closed captions, which focus on media accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, and subtitles, which focus on language accessibility, Harrenstein noted. Outside of North America and some Latin American countries, the term “closed captions” is rarely used.

Besides increasing accessibility for deaf and hearing-impaired viewers as well as those in loud or sensitive environments, captions bring other benefits for publishers. They improve discoverability in search and for suggested videos. For some creators, captions may be a legal requirement: In the U.S, the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) requires that all content that has been or may be broadcast on television be captioned. Also, subtitles can increase content reach, since more than 60 percent of a creator’s traffic comes from outside their home country.

Captions can be created in several different ways. YouTube creator tools allow the creation of captions in multiple languages. Some creators use crowdsourcing to allow viewers to add captions. Other creators rely on third-party technology or vendors who use the YouTube Data API. Even better, YouTube offers automatic captions.

“YouTube created automatic captions to address the problem of scale,” Harrenstein said. “Four hundred hours of video are uploaded per minute, so we are using machines to do speech recognition. We want to make everything accessible, and not everyone has the interest or ability to create captions themselves, unfortunately.”

YouTube has more than 1 billion captioned videos, and most of those use automatic captions.

While automatic captions were once the source of unexpected comedy because of their inaccuracy, their quality has improved. YouTube recently achieved a 50 percent accuracy improvement for automatic captions in English compared to just a few years ago, Kaver said. What’s more, it’s increasingly able to create captions for additional audio such as song lyrics and sounds like applause and laughter.

Still, accuracy is an ongoing challenge, at least for some videos, Harrenstein said. Shows on YouTube TV includes captions just as they do on regular broadcast TV, and often are delivered with inaccuracies.

Ken Harrington and Liat Kaver from YouTube presented their session via interpreters and captions on a screen in front of the lectern.


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