The Biggest Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making on YouTube

August 4, 2016 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: June 3, 2019


Have you ever noticed that little button on the bottom of a YouTube video that says “CC”?

Next time you’re watching a video, try pressing that button and see what happens.

What Am I Reading?!

“CC” stands for closed captioning, which is the text that displays speech and other key sound effects when a video plays. When you click on the CC icon on a YouTube video, that turns closed captions on.

The default setting for YouTube video captioning is to display automatically generated captions. These are produced for free by YouTube after a video is published. Automatic captions are created by automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology that tries to guess words based on how they sound.

This is not a flawless system.

screencap of YouTube video showing gibberish automatic captions

Why Are Automatic Captions So Bad?

In most cases, automatically generated captions are nowhere close to accurate. Not infrequently, they can be illegible nonsense.

At the very least, autocaptions lack correct capitalization and punctuation. They also will not include speaker identification when there are multiple people on screen.

Autocaptions will usually mess up proper names of people, places, companies, products, etc.

They will not transcribe essential sound effects, such as (applause), (music playing), (doorbell), or even (silence).

The Easiest Way to Create YouTube Captions
YouTube 3Play Media integration
3Play Media’s round trip integration with YouTube provides an automated workflow for adding captions and subtitles.Your YouTube videos can be processed in a matter of hours and captions will be automatically sent to YouTube and added to your videos.

Learn more about YouTube captioning >

Nor will they ascribe important details about delivery, ex., adding (sarcastic) or (whispered).

Automatic captions will be even less accurate under the following conditions:

  • Poor audio quality
  • Multiple speakers
  • Speaker with an accent or dialect
  • Non-speech sounds
  • Non-English words are spoken
  • Mumbling or slurring

How Do I Fix It?

It’s easy!

While you’re preparing your correct captions, you may want to disable the CC display options altogether. This should be a temporary solution to contain any embarrassment automatic captions may cause.

You then have several options for getting better closed captioning:

  • Edit the automatically generated transcript in YouTube and then reactivate it when it’s good
  • Create a transcript from scratch and upload it to YouTube
  • Enable fans to contribute closed captions to your channel
  • Use a crowdsourcing tool like Amara
  • Order professional closed captioning

These solutions vary in terms of time and financial cost.

To figure out what might work best for you, check out this whitepaper on DIY captioning resources.

Who Uses Closed Captions Anyway?

If you think not many people will turn on captions, think again.

Closed captions are essential for viewers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise in a situation where they can’t access audio (like a noisy train or a quiet library).

About 15% of Americans are deaf or hard of hearing to some degree — all of whom would need to turn on closed captions to fully understand your video.

On top of that, an Ofcom study found that 80% of people who use closed captions don’t have a hearing disability. For some it’s just a personal preference to watch video with captions on. For others, it’s practical. People with learning disabilities, neurodivergence, or attention deficits often prefer to watch videos with captions on, too.

And finally, video is increasingly consumed on mobile devices. When people watch videos on mobile, they’re more likely to be in an environment where the sound would be inaudible or disruptive, so playing a video on mute with closed captions is the best alternative.

What Have We Learned?

You do NOT want YouTube’s automatic captions displaying on your videos. They are embarrassing for your brand and offensive to people who rely on closed captions to fully understand your video.

Not convinced?

Take this #CaptionFail quiz and see how you do:

3play media logo in blue

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