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Quick Start To Captioning – Webinar Transcript


JOSH MILLER: All right, we’ll get started. So welcome, and thank you for attending this webinar on closed captioning. My name is Josh Miller. I’m one of the founders of 3Play Media.

We have about 30 minutes to cover the basics of captioning, and we’re going to try to make the presentation itself about 15 minutes and leave the rest of the time for questions. The best way to ask questions is by typing them into the questions window in the bottom right corner of your control panel. We’ll keep track of them and address all questions at the end.

So definitely feel free to type any time, but we’ll get to them at the end. And certainly feel free to email or call us any time after the webinar. Our contact info is on here. Definitely feel free to take advantage of that.

We are going to be captioning and posting a recorded version of this after the fact, and you’ll be getting a link to view that once it’s up online. For anyone following along on Twitter, the hash-tag for this webinar will be #3PlayCaptioning, as shown on the screen here in the lower right corner.


So today we’re going to give you an overview of closed captioning for web video, including some of the applicable legislation. We’ll talk about the services that we provide and go over some of the processes and workflows that are required in a step-by-step fashion.

What Are Closed Captions

So first, what are closed captions? Really, from the beginning here, captioning refers to the process of taking an audio track and transcribing it to text, then synchronizing that text with the media content. So closed captions are typically located underneath a video or overlaid on the bottom section of the video. In addition to spoken words, it’s important to note that captions convey all meaning, including relevant sound effects. And this is a key difference from subtitles, which we’ll talk about.

Closed captions originated in the early 1980s by an FCC mandate that applied to broadcast television. Now that online video is rapidly becoming the dominant medium, captioning laws and practices are proliferating throughout online video as well.

Captioning Terminology

So some basic terminology– captioning versus transcription. Sometimes these are used interchangeably. Sometimes it’s important to also note what the differences are, though. A transcript usually is just a text document, without any time information or really any synchronization to the media itself, whereas captions are completely synchronized with the media, so you can follow along throughout any point in that video.

You can certainly make captions from a transcript, which is a very common practice, by taking the text and breaking it up into small segments, called caption frames, and then synchronizing each segment with the media, so that each caption frame is displayed at the right time of that video.

Then captioning versus subtitling, which I started to mention before– the difference between captions and subtitles is that subtitles are really intended for viewers who do not have any kind of hearing impairments, but really already can follow along with any sound effects and music and such. But really, the difference there is about language. Subtitles capture the spoken content, but not sound effects, and are often available in multiple languages so that people who are used to speaking different languages can follow along as well. And for web video, it’s certainly possible to create multiple languages, or multilingual subtitles, to be displayed on a video.

Closed captioning versus open captioning. The key difference here is that closed captions can be turned on and off by the viewer, meaning there’s a button– usually, certainly, for web video, there’s usually a CC button or something of the sort that allows the user to turn those captions on or off. Whereas open captions are essentially burned into the video itself and can never be turned off by the viewer. They’re always displayed.

Post-production versus real-time. Post production means that the captioning process itself occurs offline or after the content is already recorded. And sometimes this’ll take a few days to complete. Whereas real-time captioning is done live. It’s a real-time process. It’s done by live captioners. And there’s certainly advantages and disadvantages of each. So any television content, such as news or sports, where it is a live event, that is live captioning.

How Are Captions Used

So although captions originated with broadcast television, nowadays captions are being applied across many different types of media, especially as people become more aware of the benefits, certainly with the internet, and as laws become increasingly more stringent. Since every video player and software application handles captions a little bit differently, we’ve created a number of how-to guides that you can find on our website. And we recently launched a whole section on “How It Works” on our website, you’ll see. And there’s a whole bunch of information about how our processes work, as well as just adding captions to different types of media players online in general, and the different steps that you would need to take.

Accessibility Laws – Section 508

So we’ll talk a little bit about the accessibility laws that are commonly discussed, especially around web video. Section 508 is a fairly broad law that requires that all federal electronic and information technology being successful to people with disabilities, including employees in the public. So for video, this means that captions must be added to video content. For podcast and audio files, a transcript is usually sufficient.

Accessibility Laws – Section 504

Section 504 entitles people with disabilities to equal access to any program or activity that receives a federal subsidy. Web-based communications for educational institutions and government agencies are covered by this as well. And Section 504 and 508 are both from the Rehabilitation Act. It’s important to note, many states have also enacted similar legislation to Section 504 and 508, and often even reference those particular laws.

Accessibility Laws – CVAA

More recently, the 21st Century Video Communications and Accessibility Act was passed. This was signed into law in October of 2010. This expands closed caption requirements for all online video that previously aired on television. That’s actually an important distinction from what was originally submitted, which was almost all web content. This is really only applying, right now, to content that has already aired on television. So this law is often referred to as the CVAA, and the idea of expanding beyond television content is being discussed, but it’s not part of the current law.

CVAA Update

So the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee, which is known as VPAAC, was created by the FCC to oversee all recommendations for implementing a quality captioning experience across streaming devices. And the ruling so far is that the captioning experience must be as good or better than the television experience, once it goes up online. So some quick updates– this is actually from the spring. So the six-month deadline is coming up in September.

At the end of September, all recording that has been pre-recorded content from television must have captions when being distributed on the internet. And so this is kind of the full breakdown of the initial recommendations from that VPAAC committee. And these new FCC rules will apply to broadcast and cable networks and any other TV station that makes content available online.

Captioning Benefits

So real quick about the benefits, and this is kind of where the beauty of the internet makes captioning much more worthwhile for many viewers– it’s not just for the audience who need to follow along with text. Originally, the purpose of closed captions was to provide accommodations for the millions of people with hearing impairments, and there’s no question that that is a really, really important reason to do things. And that’s a huge audience, nearly 30 million people, who are being essentially excluded without the captions. But people started using captions for many different reasons. And there are many benefits beyond the basic accessibility reasons, especially in the context of online content.

So for example, captions improve comprehension and remove language barriers for people who know English as a second language. They’re now able to follow along a little bit more at their own pace. It’s actually easier to read, when you’re learning a language, than it is to listen to the language from a spoken voice. Captions also compensate for poor audio quality or a noisy background and allow media to be used in sound-sensitive environments, like a workplace or a library.

From a search engine optimization point of view, captions make your video a lot more discoverable, because search engines are able to index the text of the video, whereas they’re not able to index anything but titles and tags when published without captions. And once your video has been found, captions allow it to be searched and reused more easily. This is especially important with long-form video.

For example, if you’re looking for something within a one-hour lecture, you quickly search through text instead of having to watch the entire thing. You can actually find that exact point and jump to it using some of the tools that we offer. We have a number of search and interactive tools that we offer for both captions and what we call interactive transcripts, if you’re interested.

And then finally, transcription is a requirement if you’re going to then translate into foreign languages. So if you do want to add subtitles in multiple languages to your video content, the captioning step is the first requirement.

Caption Formats

So there are many different caption formats that are used with specific media players. The image at the top, here, shows what a typical SRT caption file looks like. And you’ll see that there are three caption frames displayed, and each caption frame has a start time and an end time. So once a caption file is created, it needs to be associated with the corresponding video file. And the way to do that depends on the type of media and the type of video player itself that you’re using.

So for sites like YouTube, all you have to do is actually upload the caption file for each video, and the association is done for you. It’s all taken care of. And so the SRT format is actually the format that YouTube uses, for example.

Many other video platforms make the process quite easy as well. We even offer a number of integrations with video platforms, so that can be done automatically for you once that caption file is created. We also offer a captions plugin that works with many different video players to simplify the process as well. Instead of having to associate a file, it’s essentially a plugin to the player that just gets embedded on the page with your player. And it even works with video players such as Vimeo, which doesn’t currently support captions at all.

Company Background

So a little bit about who we are and where we came from– the inspiration for 3Play Media started when we were doing some work in the Spoken Language lab at CSAIL, which is the computer science department at MIT. We were approached by MIT OpenCourseWare with the idea of applying speech technology to captioning for a more cost-effective solution. We quickly recognized that speech recognition alone would not suffice, but it did provide a starting point.

So from there, we developed an innovative transcription process that uses both technology and humans and yields high-quality transcripts with time synchronization as the main output. We’re constantly developing new products and ways to use transcripts, especially time-synchronized transcripts, largely with the input of our customers. So if you have ideas, we want to hear them.

Overview of Services

Our focus is really to provide premium quality transcription and captioning services. We can also translate into many different languages. We have some unique interactive tools and plugins for video players that use the captions in time-synchronized transcripts to enhance search and navigation and the overall viewing experience.

Accuracy & Quality

So just a little bit about the process to create the transcripts– we use a multi-step review process that delivers more than 99% accuracy, even in cases of poor audio quality, or multiple speakers, or difficult content with lots of complex vocabulary. Typically, two-thirds of the work is done by a computer. And what that means is that we’ll get anywhere from 60% to 70% accuracy from the speech recognition.

The rest is done by transcriptionists. So this makes our process more efficient than other vendors. More importantly, it affords our transcriptionists the flexibility to spend more time on the finer details.

For example, we diligently research difficult words or names and places. We also put more care to ensure correct grammar and punctuation. And that’s all able to be done because we’re actually editing speech recognition output, starting from a point rather than starting from scratch and trying to go as fast as possible.

So we’ve also done a lot of work on the operational side of the business, such as making it possible to match transcriptionist expertise to certain types of content. And we have about 400 transcriptionists on staff. They cover a broad range of disciplines, as you might imagine. And so for example, if you send us tax-related content, we can match a group of transcriptionists who have more of a financial background to that particular content.

And it’s important to note that all of our work is done by professionally-trained transcriptionists who are in the United States. Every single one of them has been trained on our program on our particular training program for our software before they ever touch a file. And they’ll even go through confidentiality agreements and a number of other checks before they ever do any kind of work with us.

Captions Text Editor

One thing we’ve found is that no matter how hard we try to get a perfect transcript, certain proper nouns or vocabulary can be difficult to get exactly right. So we’ve actually built the ability for you to make a change on the fly yourself. So if you see that a name is misspelled, or if you decide you want to even redact an entire paragraph, you can make a change and just press Save, and your changes immediately propagate through all of your output files. So there’s no need to ever reprocess anything, or even wait for us to respond. You’re able to make that change that you found immediately.

Customer Support

While we’ve built a number of these tools to be self-service or even automated, much of our success is based on the fact that we give all of our customers lots of attention. We expect to walk people through the account tools and enjoy building those relationships. It’s really through these conversations that we learn about what other features might be useful. So we really take feedback seriously and want to hear from you. We want to hear how things are going.

Account Setup

In general, it’s actually really easy to get an account set up to do all this. The account setup process is very quick. Everything is done through a web-based account. And you can even pay right there in the account with a credit card, or you can be invoiced. So we’re very flexible in that regard. And the account system has a number of security measures in place, so you can set privileges for different types of users as well.

Uploading Files

Once your account’s set up, the next step is to upload content to us. There are a number of different ways to do that. We have a secure web uploader within the account system. We have an FTP server. We certainly have an API.

And we have a number of integrations with some of the leading online video platforms and lecture capture systems, including Brightcove, Mediasite, Kaltura, Ooyala, Echo360, Tegrity, even more. So if you’re using any of the platforms, that process becomes even easier. We’re talking, now, a couple clicks rather than ever having to upload videos one way or another.

We really aim to make the captioning workflow as unobtrusive as possible. So we give you the ability to automate much of the workflow. And all of the captions or different tools are purposely compatible with many different video players, even though many of those players use different formats. And another thing to know is that everything that we’re doing is web-based. So there’s no software to install, or anything of the like.

After you upload the content, it’ll get processed. The standard turnaround for transcripts and captions is four business days. And then you also have an option for two-day or one-day service. So if you are in a rush, we do have options for that as well.

Captions and Transcript Outputs

Once the files are complete, you’ll receive an email alert. So you can go and log into your account and download any of the different output formats that we create. And you’ll see that we offer about 15 or 20 different caption and transcript formats that you can pick from at any time. And every file that we process will always have all of these formats available.

So there are also– once the files are complete, you’ll also be able to access that editing interface, as I mentioned. And you also have access to some of these interactive tools that we offer, including that captions plugin. And finally, one thing to note is we are keeping an eye on some of the emerging standards for HTML5 that the W3C is discussing. We’re even involved in some of those discussions. So we’ll certainly be updating any format requirements with that as well.

Captions Plugin

The captions plugin that I have mentioned is a tool that we recently launched. And there’s no additional charge to use it, but it lets you add closed captions or subtitles to pretty much any video that is using a streaming video player. It works with a number of video players that don’t support captions, such as Vimeo, which is a great addition. And it also makes video more searchable and SEO-friendly.

So to install the captions plugin, it’s really just inserting some embed code into the web page, just like you’d embed the video player itself. The plugin will automatically communicate with the video player, and the captions data and search functionality are hosted by 3Play Media for you, but you could also self-host it if you need to. The captions plugin works out of the box with many different video players, including Kaltura, Brightcove, YouTube, Vimeo, Ooyala, JW Player, Wistia, Flowplayer, Flip TV, and a few others as well. One of the fun things about the captions plugin is that it also, if you see the magnifying glass on the right and the little search window, it enables search off of the captions. So you’re able to search by the spoken content and then jump to that part of the video all based on the captions themselves.

So we’ve got some time for questions. There are a number of links here as well. If you do have any specific questions about how our tools work, a lot of information is on our website. Definitely, please, if you want to take a look at that, that’s great. But we’re going to take one minute to just aggregate some of these questions, and we’ll be right back.


Hi, everyone. Sorry about that. We had a little internet malfunction in our office. But moving on– there a number of questions about adding captions to particular types of video players, including Windows Media. We actually have a number of specific how-to guides on our website to find that.

Basically, if you go to– I believe the link shown here, there are two links here. One is on FAQs. The resources link here, below, will actually redirect to a How It Works link. And if you even go to our home page, 3playmedia.com, you’ll see a menu item for How It Works.

And on there, you’ll see a number of how-to guides that specifically address certain types of video players and platforms. And that’s where you’ll find information on how to encode certain types of caption files into those types of players. So I definitely would recommend checking that out. And if you are looking for our support site, which also has more in-depth information on how to use our tools with those players, the right link to go to for that is support.3playmedia.com/forums. And there are both documents and videos there to learn how to use some of the tools.

There are a number of questions about pricing. And basically, the way the pricing works is that everything is based on the duration of the content itself. So in that case, it’s very much a service for transcription and captions.

Every fee will include the transcripts and the captions, as well as access to the different plugins, both the captions and the interactive transcripts. So it’s all included. And then there are turnaround options, which might affect the price as well.

To get the full breakdown on pricing, there is a link right off of our home page for pricing, and I would encourage you to take a look at that so that you can see exactly what the per-minute or per-hour fee is, and the volume discount options that we offer as well. And everything is prorated to the exact duration. So whether it be 2 minutes or 60 minutes, everything will be prorated. There’s no file minimums.

Some questions about workflow with some of the lecture capture systems. The way that works is there’s a quick setup process, which usually involves taking some credentials from your 3Play account and entering them into some fields in your either Mediasite or Echo360 or Tegrity account. That creates a linkage between the two systems.

From there, you’ll have an option to caption your videos from the interface of your lecture capture system, and it’s basically just a couple of clicks from there. So you’ll see the option to caption this video or caption this lecture, and you click that button, and depending on the platform, there might be an approval process. But otherwise, what will happen is that file will get sent to us, we’ll transcribe and caption it, and we’ll automatically send the captions back to the right place. So all you actually have to do is initiate that request, and the rest is taken care of for you. So that’s one of the nice things about these integrations is it really removes the number of steps involved.

There’s a question about when or why you might use the captions plugin that we offer. So one of the examples is when a video player that you’re using does not support captions, such as Vimeo. Vimeo’s really the big example of streaming video players don’t support captions at all. So there’s really no way to easily add captions to a Vimeo video right now.

But what the captions player does– or, sorry. The captions plugin will allow you to embed your Vimeo player onto a web page and then embed this captions plugin as well, and it’ll show up as if it’s normal captions on that Vimeo player. So it’s a wrap-around type, or a wrapper work-around, I should say, for that type of situation.

And it certainly works with other video players as well, such as YouTube. So say you’re trying to show a YouTube video in a classroom, but it’s not your video. Technically, there are ways to try to ask the owner for permission to caption that video. But if you’re unable to do that, you would actually be able to basically layer captions onto someone else’s video that you embed on a web page.

So that’s another work-around for adding captions to a YouTube video. And it certainly works with the other streaming providers, such as Kaltura or Brightcove or Ooyala. We do work with Panopto as well, I should note. So if you are using Panopto, we can support the captions for that platform as well.

There’s some questions about formatting for captions. Formatting is often controlled by the video player. Certain types of caption files have styling encoding, and some do not. So in most cases, video players either will or won’t have options for either increasing the size or changing the color.

YouTube is actually a great example of this. They’ve done a lot of work around allowing users to change caption settings and do that, and it’s all player-based. So it does change from one setting to another, unfortunately, so there’s no perfect answer to that.

So this is also a question about physical media. We, for the most part, work with web and digital content. In terms of physical media, we do work with a company that can extract video content from physical media and get it to us, and then we can provide the instructions on how you would essentially author captions onto physical media. But we don’t offer that as a service. So we tend to stick to all-web-based content.

Also another question of pricing– just to clarify, there’s no minimum fee per file. So even if the file itself is 30 seconds, you’re going to pay for 30 seconds worth, depending on the rate that would apply based on the turnaround.

And then a question about the plugins working in kind of the different settings. Does it matter where the video content is hosted, whether it’s local at a university or if it’s streaming content? So Kaltura, for example, offers a self-hosted option.

The captions plugin will work as long as it’s compatible with one of the video players. So with Kaltura, it’ll absolutely work. The key there is deciding whether you want us to host the captions or if you want to host the captions yourself. Either would be options. Basically, the plugin will communicate with the player, and as long as it’s able to reference the captions file, it’ll play along properly. So there should be no concern with that.

We’re actually a little bit over time, so we’re going to wrap up. If anyone does have further questions, please feel free to reach out. We’re happy to speak with you in more detail about your specific questions. And if we have a minute to reach out to you as well with any other answers, we’ll do that, certainly. But please do feel free to reach out to us with any questions.

So thank you very much for taking some time to join us today. And do look out for the recorded version, if you want to review it at all. Thanks very much.

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