How the Vendor’s Captioning and Transcription Process Determines Their Rates

Updated: January 4, 2018


There are several different processes for transcription and captioning. With a range of processes it’s no surprise that there are also significant differences in transcription and captioning rates among different vendors. When considering vendor options, it’s important to keep in mind that cost of captioning is usually in a delicate balance with accuracy. You may want to be wary of the cheapest captioning vendors, as oftentimes the cheapest options sacrifice accuracy by crowdsourcing or using offshore transcriptionists. On the other hand, it’s also important to not assume that the highest cost vendor is the best, as you want to be certain the vendor you choose is cost-effective and is taking advantage of current technology. Understanding the vendor’s process is key to determining which vendor has the most cost-effective rates for the quality of the work.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)

While automatically generating captions can be efficient when used in combination with human editors, this method is insufficient when used on its own.

Studies have shown that even 95% accuracy is sometimes insufficient for accurately conveying complex material. In an average sentence of 8 words, a 95% word accuracy means there will be an error on average every 2.5 sentences. Captions generated by ASR technology fall significantly below this, with an average of 60-70% accuracy. ASR technology is also prone to fail on the small “function” words that are crucial in conveying meaning in speech. Take a look at the below sentences:

“I didn’t want to do that exercise.” vs. “I did want to do that exercise.”

This example is a very common ASR error, and although a seemingly small one, the meaning of the sentence is actually completely reversed. It is very rare for a human editor to make such a mistake, as they’re able to use context to help identify and choose the correct word. Simply put, automatically generated captions are insufficient when it comes to accessibility.

Captions generated solely by automatic speech recognition technology are the lowest cost option, at an average rate of $0.25/minute. But, like with anything else, you get what you pay for. If cost is your main priority, this may be the way to go. However, if you’re looking for high quality captions that meet federal requirements for accessibility, keep in mind that cutting costs now may end up costing you a lot more down the road.

Mechanical Turk

Amazon Mechanical Turk, a web-based crowdsourcing platform, gives businesses and developers access to an on-demand, scalable workforce. The platform allows freelance workers to do human intelligence work (including transcribing audio recordings) at their own convenience. Traditionally, businesses would hire a large temporary workforce to complete similar tasks, but crowdsourcing has proven to be more timely and scalable, and is seemingly less expensive.

Mechanical Turk allows businesses to upload their video files and split them into Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) which are single tasks to be completed by one freelancer. The HITs are then published to the marketplace for freelancers to claim and complete. Once the tasks are complete, they are submitted back to the business for review and approval.

Although this model may appear to be less expensive, at $0.75 – $1.25/minute, costs can add up quickly, especially when multiple workers are employed on your tasks. Crowdsourcing can also be risky for a number of reasons, particularly because when multiple people work on a larger file, inconsistencies are bound to arise. For instance, you might run into problems with conflicting speaker identification tags, different grammar and punctuation choices, or a change of tone from one segment to another. If the information you are transcribing is confidential, there may also be security risks, as multiple people will have their hands on your file. Another major drawback to using this model is a lack of training, which ultimately leads to transcriptionists not following legal accessibility standards and requirements.


Offshore transcription is when a vendor outsources their media files to laborers outside of the native-language country. While offshore labor is less expensive, costing between $1.50 – $3.00/minute, it’s also a lot less accurate. Non-native English transcriptionists are unlikely to have the same handle on English grammar, spelling, and intent that native speakers have. They may also lack general knowledge of cultural and linguistic nuances, slang, accents, and current events that are essential to understanding the intent of the media.

Offshore transcripts frequently fail to meet the FCC standard of accuracy, as they contain many spelling and grammar mistakes, hurting the quality of the captions. Even if choosing a US-based captioning company, it’s important to find out if they outsource their editing or transcription to US-based workers, or offshore transcriptionists. The best transcriptionist is one native to the language of the media.

Professional US-Based Transcriptionists

The best way to produce transcripts that are both high-quality and offer fair rates involves a multi-step process. Vendors who leverage technology by using speech recognition software for a first draft are more cost-effective since transcriptionists aren’t starting on the file from scratch.

At 3Play Media, we use a 3-step process which includes a combination of ASR and human cleanup. Our advanced technology enables us to offer competitive rates (including volume-based discounts), and our multi-step quality assurance measures ensure we deliver premium quality captions, subtitles, and transcripts far more efficiently than traditional methods.

This approach affords our transcriptionists the flexibility to spend more time on the finer details. Our process is the same for transcript and caption files, both of which are made time-synchronized with the associated audio or video file.

Our average measured accuracy is 99.6%, and we guarantee over 99%, even in cases of poor audio quality, multiple speakers, difficult content, and accents. Our staff of more than 1,000 transcriptionists gives us the flexibility to assign complex or technical content to transcriptionists with a discipline-specific expertise or a familiarity with a certain accent, enabling us to process a broad range of complex content to a consistently high quality.

In order to guarantee an accurate transcript, it’s crucial to understand the vendor’s process. Trained, native English-speaking transcriptionists are most likely to provide you with the accuracy that you need in order to meet legal requirements for accuracy, time synchronization, completeness and placement.


If you’re looking for top quality and reasonably priced captions or transcripts, check out our pricing and get started with 3Play today!

Pig View Pricing CTA

3play media logo in blue

Subscribe to the Blog Digest

Sign up for our blog digest. Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your email address.