The Future of Video Captioning According to Google

March 5, 2016 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: June 3, 2019

Google’s video platform, YouTube, is on the frontier of video accessibility and closed captioning innovation. It’s in a unique position: captioning a very broad range of content — much of which they don’t own. For free.

What motivates Google to innovate in video accessibility? And what does it have planned for the future?

In the Streaming Media Conference session Best Practices for Implementing Accessible Video Captioning, YouTube Product Manager at Google, Brad Ellis, offers insights on the future of accessible video, why universal accessibility is important to Google, and how captions enhance content discovery.

Watch the full recording of the session here:


Why Google Transcribes & Closed Captions YouTube Videos

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 attract international audiences, video accessibility is a priority for YouTube.

Building Accessibility into YouTube

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

YouTube has more than 1 billion unique visitors each month.

So how does YouTube approach closed captioning on such a mind-numbingly large scale? Ellis says:

“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.

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 just 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.

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 Publishers 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:

Making video accessible to people who need captions is really important.

“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.”

YouTube’s Global Audience: The Case for Video Translation and Multilingual 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 Closed Captions Improve Video SEO

Captions are an important tool for video SEO and YouTube search. But because of insufficient accuracy, YouTube’s automatically generated captions are not indexed by Google.

The good news is that if you take the extra effort to add professional closed captions to YouTube videos, the text does get indexed, allowing more potential viewers to find your content.

If you upload captions yourself to any YouTube video, we do index that. That is searched.

Ellis confirms that this is the case:

“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 YouTube channel engagement.

Ellis describes a study that reveals how captions increase video views and watch time:

“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.”

Closed Captions for Mobile Video

Ellis recently moved back to the states after living in Tokyo for six years. When he first arrived in Japan, Ellis saw that mobile technology was lightyears ahead of the US. 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 web traffic in Japan and Korea comes from mobile devices.

I’m looking forward to the day when we can say 100% of all places support captions, and everybody will be able to watch a video with captions no matter where they watch it.

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 says.

He 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 when we can say 100% of all places support captions, and everybody will be able to watch a video with captions no matter where they watch it.”

Join the future of web accessibility and add closed captions to your YouTube videos. Here’s a free tutorial:

How to Add Closed Captions & Subtitles to YouTube Videos: Free Guide

This post was originally published by Shannon Murphey on January 10, 2014, as “Future of video accessibility and video captions according to Google and YouTube.” It has since been updated.

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