Future of Accessibility and Video Captions According to Google and YouTube
“Making video accessible to people who need captions is really important. And I want to encourage everybody who has power over this to make their videos accessible, to add captions, and to focus not on excuses or reasons why not to do it or what’s required, but how you can have the biggest impact and reach the most people.”
YouTube Product Manager
Streaming Media West is a conference where digital media experts and professionals exchange ideas, strategies and success stories. The session Best Practices for Implementing Accessible Video Captioning brought together speakers from Google, Dell, and T-Mobile to exchange approaches to video captioning, mobile video, and video translation.
Google’s video platform, YouTube, is in a unique position of captioning a very broad range of content–much of which they don’t own. Brad Ellis, a YouTube Product Manager at Google, offered insights on the future of accessible video, why universal accessibility is important to Google, and how captions enhance content discoverability.
YouTube is the largest online video platform and video sharing community in the world. Created in 2005 and acquired by Google in 2006, the company is based in San Bruno, California. YouTube uses Adobe Flash Video and HTML5 to stream a wide variety of user-generated video content, TV clips, music videos, video blogs, original video shorts, and educational videos. While most YouTube content is uploaded by individuals, media corporations like CBS, BBC, Vevo, and Hulu offer their materials through the YouTube partnership program.
Why Google Captions Video
Google’s mission is to make all information universally accessible. Ellis and his team have embraced this directive by attempting to remove barriers to video captioning. Whether using captions to assist those with hearing disabilities, or because translated captions help international audiences, video accessibility is a priority to YouTube from the top down.
Building Accessibility into YouTube
YouTube has more than 1 billion unique visitors each month. So how does YouTube approach captioning on such a mind-numbingly large scale? “The captions team at YouTube doesn’t actually go in and type in captions for anything. But we build a platform that allows anybody to upload captions in 20-plus different formats and then display those captions on all YouTube players,” says Ellis. “We also build tools for people who are creating captions for their content on their own to easily and quickly create captions for their videos. Our goal is simply to make every video understandable to every user. A very long-term goal, but that’s what we’re aspiring to.”
YouTube’s Automatic Captions
YouTube’s automatic captions have received quite a bit of flack—not because they are error prone, but because some video creators mistakenly think they’re good enough to accommodate deaf users. We commend Google for taking up the mantle of web accessibility and being a model for other global media companies. After all, Google knows YouTube auto captions are not perfect, “We know there are issues. But going back to our long-term goal of making every video understandable to every user, technology is the only way that we can scale,” says Ellis. “With over 80 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, technology is a necessary aid to help as many creators as possible to add video captions.”
Ellis echoes the FCC’s interpretation of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which puts the legal responsibility to caption video on the video owner. “It’s ultimately up to the content creator. If the video uploader did not add captions themselves, we do the best we can to help somebody who needs captions. It’s not perfect, and we have a lot of errors…we’re doing more work to make this better and better.”
Why YouTube Video Creators Should Caption Video, According to Google
Ellis says that YouTube creators receive a lot of requests from fans and friends to add captions. Yet, even with free tools, many creators feel like it is too much effort. Ellis questions the legitimacy of this argument: “I really think that it’s not as hard as people make it out to be. It can be really hard…but perfection is the enemy of good in this case. Something is better than nothing.”
“Making video accessible to people who need captions is really important. And I want to encourage everybody who has power over this to make their videos accessible, to add captions, and to focus not on excuses or reasons why not to do it or what’s required, but how you can have the biggest impact and reach the most people,” says Ellis, further promoting Google’s mission.
YouTube Videos and a Worldwide Audience: The Case for Translation and Subtitles
Streaming in 61 countries and across 61 languages, YouTube has an international presence that global brands should take advantage of. A huge part of the motivation behind Google and YouTube’s push for captioned video content is that captions and transcripts are the starting point for translation. “We actually have 80% of views on YouTube coming from outside of the United States. That’s huge, and a lot of that is non-English. Translating captions is very important. It’s a huge opportunity for growth. We see huge demand from non-English uploaders as well to get their content translated,” says Ellis.
How Professional Quality Captions Improve Google Search Rankings and Video SEO
As we discussed in the blog article: How to Maximize YouTube Viewership with Transcripts & Captions, captions are an important tool for video SEO and YouTube visibility. Because of errors, automatic captions are not indexed by Google. The good news is that if you take the extra effort to add professional quality captions to YouTube, the text does get indexed, allowing more potential viewers to find your video content. Ellis explains: “We don’t use the automatic captions today. I hope that we will down the road, but it’s a trade-off with the quality. If you upload captions yourself to any YouTube video, we do index that. That is searched.”
Video captions also increase channel engagement–not just in video views, but the total time watched. As Ellis explains, “We did an experiment with one partner a year ago and saw just by captioning videos–they were English videos with English captions–we did a scientific A/B test and saw a 4% increase in traffic in views and watch time on YouTube. Imagine what that could be if you’re making it accessible in more languages.”
Mobile Video, Captions “Pass-Through” and Google Technology
Ellis recently moved back to the states after living in Tokyo for the past six years. When he first arrived to Japan, Ellis saw that mobile technology was further ahead than in the U.S. People were watching video on tiny flip phone screens! Because of the demand for video anytime, anywhere, it’s not surprising that more than half of the traffic in Japan and Korea comes from mobile.
Ellis recognizes the need for mobile flexibility and accessibility stateside. The Google team is hard at work to allow captions to “pass through” on any device. A big challenge with small screens is where to position captions without obstructing the video. “Positioning captions–to show speaker identification–should work on all devices, any color, or anything else specified.”
Ellis also addresses the challenge of maintaining compatibility across different hardware and software: “I think that one of the difficulties is the fragmentation that we have in the markets. We have so many different phones and so many different versions of operating systems, applications, mobile web browsers. But we’re seeing everybody catch up. In the long term, I’m looking forward to the day where we say 100% of all places support captions, and everybody will be able to watch a video with captions no matter where they watch it.”