More than 1 billion hours of videos are watched every day on YouTube. That doesn’t consider videos posted online elsewhere on social media and websites. Clearly, online video is growing at an alarming rate.
Imagine you’re watching videos on YouTube and the sound cuts out. Pick a random video. Mute the sound. Watch the video. You’ll have more questions than answers. Well, unless you lucked out and watched one that has no audio.
Captioning Accuracy Rates
In some cases, you can turn on the captions. It often turns out the only option is auto-generated captions. That means YouTube’s speech-to-text software created the captions. And they’re inaccurate and have little punctuation.
Here’s a randomly selected YouTube video with auto-generated captions. The word accuracy is decent, but it looks like one long blob of text without punctuation. You can’t tell who said what. A single line of captions can contain something both speakers said.
According to the University of Minnesota Duluth, YouTube’s automatic caption accuracy rate is 60 to 70 percent. Even a 90 percent accuracy rate leaves leave comprehension gaps. Omitting one word in a ten-word sentence can result in head-scratching. Human speech is fast. When you’re reading captions that contain errors or lack punctuation, you run into cognitive overload. You don’t have the time to fill in the gaps.
People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or don’t have the sound on are likely to quit watching a video with many mistakes in its captions. In short, automatic captions are not better than no captions. Fortunately, creators have many options for captioning their videos.
How do captions work?
Captions don’t magically show up on a video. YouTube auto-generated captions don’t count, y’all. To create a captioned video requires the video (of course) and the text file with the captions. YouTube’s auto-generated creates a caption text file. You can download it and use it elsewhere.
The caption file is a text file that you can open in a text editor. The magic happens in the time codes. They tell the captions when to show up.
The way to add captions to a video is to create a text file to upload with the video. There are many caption file formats. The most common file formats are SRT and VTT.
SRT is short for SubRip Subtitle file. LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and many other platforms accept it. If you open an .srt file, you’ll see it has sequence numbers followed by a time code. The caption shows up when the video hits the first timecode. And it goes away when the video reaches the second timecode.
Modeled after the SRT, WebVTT contains a VTT file extension. It takes captions a step further by allowing you to format the text, control positioning, and other things. A VTT file contains no sequence numbers like with an SRT file. The file displays the time code showing the start and end time for each caption.
No one wants to create a caption file from scratch. You have three general options for creating a caption file.
Three options for creation captions
The best way to caption your videos depends on your processes and preferences. Automatic captions have gotten better, but humans create the most accurate captions.
Generally, you have three options for captioning:
- Caption it yourself with software
- Work with a captioning service
- Start with automatic captions and edit the captions
The list of captioning software and tools is long. To narrow the list, think about the budget, operating system, and devices. If you’re going to create and caption videos on an Android phone, then look into options for Androids. Be aware that captioning on a phone can be tedious. Still, it’s possible to do it.
1. Caption yourself with software
In creating your own captions, you use software to enter the captions. You may already use software to edit videos that allows you to add captions. This may be the best option. But of course, not all video editors have an easy-to-use interface for adding captions. Ask around. Try different apps to see which works for you.
YouTube, for example, has a subtitle editor. You have three options for adding captions on YouTube. You can upload a transcript or subtitles file. The second option is to copy and paste the transcript into YouTube and it will automatically sync it with the video. And finally, you can create new subtitles by entering the captions. This one takes the longest.
How long does it take to caption a video? It depends on the length of the video and how much audio it has. The longer the video and the more audio it has, the longer it will take to caption it.
2. Work with a captioning service
As stated before, humans create the best captions. With a captioning service, you’ll upload your video. The service will caption the video and send the caption file back to you. The output and turnaround times depend on the service.
Not all captioning and transcription services are 100 percent human. Many services use automated speech recognition (ASR) to create captions. A few offer 100 percent human captioning. And others may use both.
3. Start with automatic captions and edit the captions
The accuracy in automatic captioning isn’t good enough. Oftentimes, it has no punctuation and looks like one big blob of text along with incorrect words. It can save time to create a transcript using speech-to-text software. Play the video and the transcription software spits out the text. Save the file. And that can be the starting point for your captions.
You’ll need to edit the text and the timing of the captions. After creating a transcript, you can upload the video to YouTube and paste the transcript. Let YouTube set the timings.
Another option is to upload your video to YouTube and let it automatically caption it. However, it doesn’t do it 100 percent of the time. This popular method can work well for people whose speech yields a high ASR accuracy rate. Then, all they have to do is edit the captions.
The automatic captions may also require timing tweaks. It’s important that the audio and the captions appear at the same time. When they’re out of sync, it creates a lousy and dizzying viewing experience.
Adding captions is only half of the story
Captioning audio is only part of the formula for awesome captions. Quality is the other half.
The good news is that there are more apps to help you add captions. The bad news is they give the users too many options that create poor quality captions you can’t read or they distract you from the video.
There is no one standard for great captions. You’ll find guidelines for creating quality captions from Described and Caption Media Program (DCMP), FCC, and WCAG. Before I discovered these, I had created the Caption10 guidelines for creating awesome captions. It includes most of the other guidelines and enhances them based on my experience as someone who depends on captions.
Great captions are boring. That’s because they let the video be the star.
Spreading the Word
What can we do to spread the word to use captions? One of the biggest barriers to captioning is not knowing what to do. Share captioning statistics with people who think they don’t need to caption their videos. They may not be aware how of much of their audience they’re neglecting. Share resources with people who don’t know how to caption videos.
We also need to reward those who caption their videos. If you see a captioned video, leave a comment thanking the creators for the captions. And encourage them to use #Captioned to expand their video’s reach.
Follow #Captioned on LinkedIn so we can grow the numbers to show people are looking to captioned videos. It’s a unique hashtag because it doesn’t tell you the topic of the video, but rather that the video has captions. Caption viewers use it to find captioned videos.
Next time you post your video online, add the hashtag. Use it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and even YouTube because it does not show the [CC] when a video contains open captions.
Video has pervaded our lives. There are times when people need captions out of necessity such as the sound cutting out. When you caption your videos, you increase the chances of your video being watched.