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ReelSEO interview on web video accessibility and captioning

  • I was recently interviewed by Grant Crowell of ReelSEO on the passing of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.  We discussed the implications of the new regulation as well as some of the added benefits of transcribing and captioning web video, such as SEO and improved navigation.  I’ve included the audio and interactive transcript from the interview here:

JM: The act is a big step forward for video accessibility on the Internet. The act essentially replicates a lot of the existing accessibility standards that we see on television every day, which really requires networks and television shows to caption their programming for those who need the assistance, for the hearing impaired.

It’s also actually a big tool if you’re ever in the airport. Most times you can’t hear what’s being said on the television. And the closed captioning actually comes in handy quite a bit.

What happened is that they have passed a bill that basically forces any programming that had been on television previously, that will be aired on the Internet to also carry captions with it for the hearing impaired.

GC: My understanding in the blog post that you wrote was that the two bills– There were two bills here that I understand were passed that are going to expand the requirement for web video captioning accessibility services.

Specifically one, they’ll require that any captioned television program be captioned when delivered over the Internet. And two, they will also require all devices large enough for video to be equipped to support captioning functionality. Can you explain a little bit more of what we can expect then from that?

JM: I think what you’ll see is a lot more of– NBC, CBS, Hulu– the big video sites that carry a lot of the programming that has already aired on television, some of them were already offering captions, but a lot of them really weren’t.

And even those that were, were a little bit inconsistent at times. And what’s happening now is that they’re basically going to be forced to offer captions.

Personally, if the captions are already created, I would think that this shouldn’t be such a horrible task to undertake. It’s more reformatting an existing transcript that hopefully has been preserved in some way. So what it’s really doing is, it’s a pretty logical step I think in a lot of people’s opinions.

And then the part with the devices, that’s where it gets a little interesting. And now we’re seeing all kinds of new capabilities with smartphones, Droid, iPhone, BlackBerry, that are really much more video capable than ever before. Of course the iPad.

They’re basically extending the legislation to those devices since people are now consuming video more regularly on the more capable devices. And for a long time that was a little bit more difficult.

But now a lot of the video platforms that support web captioning, or even web video in the first place, are now supporting mobile capabilities as well. So it makes sense that they’d be asked to do the same thing there.

GC: Now Josh, I can definitely understand with shows like on NBC that go over to Hulu and the benefit in them having the means to do closed captioning for the Internet.

My question is, does this affect also television shows on the local level? Just say your typical regular morning talk show or something independently produced but that does appear on network or cable. Will the requirements be the same for that?

JM: Yeah, as far as I understand, the networks that are local or the programming that’s local will also have to caption their content if it’s put online.

I think the big difference between what does or does not have to be captioned is really where it initially airs. So if it’s an Internet TV show or if it’s specifically created for the Internet, those shows will not be mandated to have captions.

GC: What about 24-hour shows like CNN, Home Shopping Network, do they already something like this in place that you know of, or are they going to have to follow the same requirements?

JM: Their requirements actually are a little bit different. The standards for live programming are slightly different right now.

I don’t know all of the details, but I do know that the standards that they’re held to are a little bit lower because of the live nature. The expense to have perfect captions on a live show is quite high. So a lot of times, certainly news shows since a lot of them are scripted, they’ll actually feed the script in for the captions.

GC: Now in terms of the arguments for and against, I know in your blog you mentioned Representative Ed Markey was the initial sponsor who introduced the bill. Are you familiar with the organizations that had originally basically lobbied for this bill?

JM: A number of the organizations that lobbied for it are really around the accessibility function. So there’s COAT, which is really big on accessibility all over the place. And it goes far beyond captions really.

GC: That’s the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology at coataccess.org I believe.

JM: Exactly. The big thing around video in addition to captions, for the hearing impaired clearly captions are critical, or transcripts. The other side of it is, if you’re blind, video is nice in that you have audio. But even then, the true accessibility when it comes to web accessibility would offer the ability to have a screen reader go through a website and actually read aloud what’s on the website to the person. It’s some pretty cool technology that will do that.

The problem with video is that can’t always be done. It can’t be navigated quite as easily. So you need the transcript for those purposes as well. So there’s a lot more than just captioning behind pushing the effort. Really the accessibility groups were a big part of this. Certainly National Association for the Deaf, the NAD, was a big part of it.

The interesting thing in my opinion with the Internet is that captioning and transcription of video offers a lot more value than it could on television. And there is a search component for video in just the nature of the Internet where there’s so much information out there and so much video now that there’s a huge, huge, huge benefit that can be gathered from having captions and transcripts. And I think that’s one of the best parts of having all these networks be forced to caption their shows. We’re now going to be able to search them, which is pretty cool.

GC: There’s a lot of good arguments for having closed captioning on video, just from an ROI standpoint rather than even just through legislation, although I’m sure that gives it a good boost. Were there any organizations or individuals that you know of that actually came out against this legislation?

JM: I don’t know about specific organizations or people, but there are actually good arguments for why this would be difficult to pass or why you might want to limit what’s actually mandated.

And one of those is actually the whole thing, coming back to the Internet-only shows. If you start mandating things like that where one of the beauties of the Internet is it’s actually quite inexpensive to produce content and post it and share it, if all of a sudden those people are now forced to caption or transcribe their content, the cost is far higher than they initially started out at and they may actually be dissuaded from creating the content. Which is completely not the point of this.

So I think that was one of the big arguments, as well as even how do you regulate this. There’s so much content out there and it’s far more infinite than television, that regulation of this becomes a big issue as well.

So there definitely are reasons why it’s difficult to make this more of a sweeping bill. Even the legislation that exists for government entities in Section 508 or Section 504, is difficult to enforce. So section 508 says the any federal content, any federal content, on any site has to be accessible. It’s pretty cut and dry. But even that is difficult to enforce, and those are for federal entities.

That became a big part of this. And then there’s a huge grey area of what is television-type programming and what’s not. So the Internet actually, as wonderful it is in bringing all this content to us, actually makes it difficult as well to figure out where can we draw the line and who really should be captioning their content.

GC: That also brings up another interesting question. What are the solutions available right now for people who can do closed captioning?

I know most people might use YouTube’s own closed captioning features. They have one where you can upload a transcript. And they have another area where it does it’s best for audio recognition, you can go in and edit.

I’ve done both. It’s a very handy feature for people who are just looking for a free service out there, even though I would say for your audio recognition you better make darn sure that you’re in an enclosed area and the sound is really good, otherwise you can get some very strange stuff.

But perhaps you can share with our audience what are the solutions out there for people. There’s audio to text recognition. And there’s what your company does which I believe is– There’s other ones that do just really fast manual transcriptions, I guess along a certain area of using technology but having a human being behind to edit and review the stuff.

So can you explain a little bit more about what people can do right now in the area of closed captioning with the solutions that you guys offer?

JM: I think what Google has done is fantastic. They brought a feature, a tool, to the public for free that people can use whether they have a transcript or not. The great part is if you do have the transcript they’ll align it for you for free. It’s going to be at least good enough, if not better, which is great.

And then if you don’t have a transcript you can actually automatically generate one. It’s actually the same technology as Google Voice for anyone who’s used that. It’s basically their speech recognition that they’re actually making some pretty good strides with. It’s not going to be perfect, and they admit that too. But it’s better than nothing. It’s something there.

The other part that comes into play is you could actually run your video through Google’s tool and create a draft transcript and try to edit that. And you can kind of play around with what might be faster; starting from scratch or running it through and editing.

Other free options, there’s a site called subtitlehorse.org where you can actually have an interface that allows you to type in your captions and arrange your captions in caption frames, so that’s a nice tool.

But there are also certainly lots of firms out there. There are a few firms that are really focused on web captioning, web video and transcription, like ourselves. Then there are plenty of really experienced captioning firms who do all the captioning for broadcast.

So WGBH which is a big part of NAD, The National Association of the Deaf, as well as Colorado Caption, and the list goes on.

GC: There are a lot of opportunities for people. And I think it does come down to testing out what’s available. I’ve started with the free, but clearly if you’re doing a lot, it probably does make very good sense to be working with a company, at least maybe a combination of a technology tool and human editor behind that stuff. Probably especially one that might have an understanding of your own industry because the vernacular can certainly change depending on what industry you’re in.

My last question to you Josh is, where do you see this going in the future with congress? I know it was mentioned it was a bit of a watered-down bill from what could’ve been taking place with online video.

If you had to look into your crystal ball, do you think that future bills will be introduced that will go farther with mandating captions in Internet video viewing?

JM: I do. And I don’t say that as something that I get excited about because of the business we’re in, but more because of the way the Internet’s going.

So much more communication now, certainly in the enterprise, but even in education and all over, is being conducted with video.

Classes are going online. People stopped traveling for meetings because they’re doing video conference calls or there are webinars, webcasts, everything. If you look online, video is just through the roof.

And the whole point of the ADA, The Americans with Disabilities Act, in the first place was to grant equal access for all in these types of situations. And I think, hopefully, hopefully, a lot of businesses will see the benefit before they’re being told they have to do it because there are a lot more benefits with the Internet. And there’s just a lot more you can do with that transcript.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if it came down to the point where something had to be mandated more explicitly, just to make sure that no one was being left out.

GC: For the businesses and people that do already seen the benefit– I guess this is my last question. It’s an appropriate way to do it– what do you recommend people and businesses look for in choosing a closed-captioning service? And what’s the criteria that applies pretty much to anyone?

JM: I think back to what you said before is, number one is volume. And if it’s really low volume, you’re just doing a couple files, then I think it is worth exploring some of the free options.

If it’s larger volume, that’s something to really pay attention to and understanding that the firm that you’re dealing with can really scale and meet your needs. So that’s one thing.

I think quality is huge, and there’s a huge variance in quality. And I think that the consumer of transcription and captioning services needs to decide how much that matters. If quality matters, you will notice it. And if it doesn’t, then I would find a solution that just works for you and that the price is right.

That’s the last thing, price is always going to come into play, unfortunately, but that’s the reality of the situation. And pricing can also swing quite a bit.

I will say, to your point before, there’s always going to be some industry vernacular or specialized vocabulary when you’re dealing with specific industries or academics or whatever it may be. And so in that case, I think you might want to pay a little more attention to quality and understand where the people are sourcing their labor, what the process is, and how much they build in quality mechanisms.

Those are things that are worth asking about and really making sure you know what you’re getting for your money. Because there are a lot of offers out there that are incredibly cost effective. And some are more realistic than others when it comes to getting a quality product.

GC: I would definitely add to that, that could fall under quality is efficiency. How nice it would be for someone like myself, do a show and have it already transcribed for you.

Even though, of course good people use a transcript and start from there, but when you can have everything out there like you mentioned, more text that’s more indexable for search, both on site but also throughout Google and other areas.

So it does make sense from an accessibility standpoint but also from marketability standpoint.

Josh, I’d like to thank you for educating our audience about this bill and about captioning and web video captioning for Legal Video Guys. Thanks for being a part of this. JM: Thank you, appreciate it. It was a good time.

What are your thoughts on how this legislation will affect online video publishers? Is this all we should expect in terms of mandates, or are we just getting started?

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