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Discovery Digital Networks Studies the Impact of Adding Closed Captions to YouTube Videos

Discovery Digital Networks produces original video programming for passionate audiences via the original video networks Revision3, TestTube, Animalist, SourceFed, and The DeFranco Network. Discovery Digital Networks is part of Discovery Communications, the world’s leading non-fiction media company.

In September 2013, Discovery Digital Networks decided to try adding closed captions to their YouTube videos, but at the same time wanted to quantify the value of doing so. Using 3Play Media’s captioning and transcription services, Discovery Digital Networks conducted a controlled study on the effects of adding closed captions to YouTube videos.

Discovery Digital Networks Tests Captioning on 125 Videos Across 8 Channels

Through 3Play Media, Discovery Digital Networks transcribed 125 of 334 videos published between January 2013 and April 2014. The transcribed videos were published across 8 of their channels, including DNews, What’s the Big Deal?, and Tekzilla. Data was collected corresponding to the date that captions were turned on for each individual video and was analyzed on a day-by-day basis. This process normalized the difference in views between recently published videos and videos that were published prior to being captioned; it also normalized the effects of viral videos on the data. Discovery Digital Networks controlled the experiment by measuring the data obtained from the 125 transcribed videos against the remaining 209 uncaptioned videos.

Adding Captions to YouTube Videos Increases Views Significantly

After 14 Days All Time
Increase in YouTube Views 13.48% 7.32%

Discovery Digital Networks found an overall increase of 7.32% in views for captioned videos, a statistic that they were very pleased with. They also found that the greatest gains in views were seen during the first 14 days after adding captions, with a 13.48% increase. They established no significant impact on shares and other engagement metrics.

Adding Captions to YouTube Videos Increases Views

Captions Are Indexed by YouTube Search

Discovery Digital Networks also wanted to be certain that the closed caption files were being indexed by YouTube’s search engine. To test this, they searched for a phrase that appeared in the transcript of the video, but not in the video title, description, or tags. The example below shows that their video ranked 4th on YouTube for the term, proving both that the captions were indexed and that YouTube considers caption files in ranking.

Captions Are Indexed by YouTube Search

When Does Captioning Become a Worthwhile Investment on YouTube?

We were curious how many views it would take to make back what you spend on captioning your YouTube videos. Obviously the metrics for monetizing a video on YouTube are complex, and many factors other than views play into how much money you will make as a YouTube partner. However, if we only consider views, here is how the economics play out: The typical range of YouTube CPM earnings is between $1 and $10 (between $0.001 and $0.01 per view). If you have a 2-minute video, captioning it would cost $5 through 3Play Media or CaptionsForYouTube. If your CPM earnings are on the high end, you would only need about 6,800 lifetime views to reach breakeven. If your CPM earnings are on the low end, it would take about 68,000 lifetime views to get positive ROI.

With a 5-minute video, it would take between 17,000 and 170,000 lifetime views to make back the money you spent on captioning, depending on your CPM earnings.

 YouTube Captioning ROI Analysis

Hypothetically, a channel with around 130 million views, like DNews, could expect to gain approximately 10 million views as a result of captioning (assuming the documented 7.32% increase). The cost of captioning all of the content on DNews (about 1100 videos, each around 3 minutes long) would be approximately $8,250. Assuming $1-$10 CPM, the 10 million expected views attributable to captioning would equate to earnings anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. In this case, the cost of captioning would be paid back and more: it could even provide returns of over 10 times the investment.

Keep in mind that this estimate is based only on views, and many other factors play into video monetization, including co-publishing videos on YouTube and your own website, engagement metrics, advertising, and implementing further video SEO practices. Captioning also makes your videos accessible to people with hearing disabilities, improves comprehension, and results in many other benefits that are harder to quantify.

Discovery Digital Networks Plans to Roll Out Captions Across All Channels

Based on the results of this study, Discovery Digital Networks decided to roll out captioning for the rest of their video content. They were very pleased with the demonstrated increase in views, and believe that the projected gains will be profitable for their channels. Discovery Digital Networks’ study shows that adding closed captions to YouTube videos can have a dramatic immediate impact on views, as well as a solid positive impact over time.

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