In-House Captioning Workflows and Economic Analysis

In this webinar, Korey Singleton, the Assistive Technology Initiative Manager at George Mason University, will walk you through in-house captioning workflows and timelines. In addition, he will provide a captioning cost analysis by fiscal year, demonstrating the economics of captioning as George Mason’s workflow has developed over the years.

Most colleges and universities are required by law to provide closed captions for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, cost is often a considerable limiting factor when it comes to captioning, as not all schools have the budget to hire a captioning vendor. If you are facing this issue, in-house captioning might be a solution to consider.

In this webinar, Korey Singleton, the Assistive Technology Initiative Manager at George Mason University, will walk you through in-house captioning workflows and timelines. In addition, he will provide a captioning cost analysis by fiscal year, demonstrating the economics of captioning as George Mason’s workflow has developed over the years. Topics covered include:

  • Initiating an in-house captioning pilot program
  • Developing and evolving a captioning workflow
  • In-house captioning workflows for video platforms
  • A timeline of George Mason University’s captioning initiative
  • An economic analysis of in-house captioning over 3 years
  • A closer look at the cost of in-house captioning per minute of content


Korey Singleton
Assistive Technology Initiative Manager | George Mason University

Lily Bond
Content Marketing Manager | 3Play Media

Webinar Insight: Are You Paying Too Much for Captions?

A look at the true cost of in-house captioning services.
When it comes to captioning, cost is almost always a concern. Often times an organization will look within to tackle the task. Maybe an intern, or some students, will be willing and able to help attain the goal of accessibility. The general intuition is that outside services are expensive, and that it is more cost-effective to use internal resources. So let’s take a look at what the fully loaded cost looks like.

First, we should define the requirements for a successfully captioned video file. For most web-based video content, a video can be captioned using a small, external file that does not require any additional encoding or authoring of the video itself. That caption file is essentially a transcript that is broken up into caption frames with timecodes to denote when each caption frame should show up.

There are three main components in creating captions for video content: transcribing the video, synchronizing the text, and then managing the overall process.

chalkboard showing how much it costs to caption a video yourself

1. Transcription

Let’s start with the first, and most time-consuming, task: transcription. Traditionally, it takes a trained transcriptionist four to five hours to transcribe one hour of normal audio or video content. But, if this task is to be done in-house, only a large corporation will be able to afford to hire and manage trained transcriptionists. More likely, for higher education or government, a student or intern will be available to work part-time on the task. Not only will the time-requirement to complete the work be on the higher end, but also training and management are now more critical in order to maintain consistent quality and turnaround.

A conservative estimate for the transcription portion of our captioning exercise will be five hours. And let’s assume we pay our students $15 per hour. That’s $75 to transcribe one hour of content.

2. Synchronization

Now, let’s discuss the synchronization step. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished. There are several free tools that allow a user to create caption frames and transcribe directly into the open fields. Alternatively, you can load a transcript into the tool and pick time points to break up lines. Automated solutions also exist and can save time, but are extremely dependent on the quality of the audio and the quality of the transcript to properly match and synch the text to the video. YouTube actually offers this for free for any video you upload and have a transcript for. For analysis purposes, let’s assume the synchronization effort adds 20% to the time requirement. In this case, that would be one more hour, or $15. We’re now up to $90 per hour.

3. Operations Management

Finally, management and quality control are key factors for an ongoing captioning operation. Quality comes into play in two ways: up front training of transcription and captioning standards and review/error checking after a file is complete. If only a couple videos need to be captioned, these issues may not be as apparent since someone can provide a bit more care and attention without driving up cost too severely. But a continuous workflow absolutely requires these quality considerations in order to provide an acceptable level of service and output.

For a proper review process, it is safe to say that a quality check will take more than the duration of the actual content. So let’s say one and a half hours for the one hour of content. This will likely be done by another student, but certainly at the same $15 per hour rate. We now add $22.50 to get to $112.50 as our running tab for the hour of content.

The last question of management time largely depends on how much content needs to be captioned. That in turn will determine how many students or interns require training and scheduling oversight. Let’s assume a student or intern can work 20 hours per week. If the fully loaded time to caption one hour of content is 7.5 hours (transcription plus captioning plus QA), then we can’t even get 3 hours of video captioned with one person in a week. Someone has to oversee this growing staff.

Let’s assume we’re dealing with 100 hours of content per month so we can figure out what the management costs might be. 100 hours per month would require 750 labor hours to complete. At 20 hours a week, we need 10 people working to complete the task. A single supervisor can likely oversee this group of 10, maybe even 12 to provide some overlap. At $25 per hour for 40 hours per week, a supervisor will cost $16,000 for every 4-month stint – the equivalent of one semester or term of an intern.

The one last piece of management that we haven’t discussed is training. Transcription and captioning each have a long list of standards that must be followed to produce a consistent output. These standards cover issues such as how to transcribe someone’s false start to a sentence, how to represent numbers and math formulae, and how to identify speaker changes. Captioning has rules about timing and number of characters per line and lines per frame. All these things have to be made systematic up front to reduce ongoing support costs. A conservative estimate of training time per student worker is $500. Plus, it is likely that a new group of students or interns is coming in every four months and will need training. Total training costs are now $10,000 for two shifts of 10 people.

If we just look at 8 months of the year (one academic year), management and training costs will be $42,000 to cover 800 hours of captioning. Labor fees for the actual transcription and captioning total $90,000. The total cost of captioning per hour of content is now $165. This assumes that everything goes smoothly – that 7.5 hours per hour is accurate and that little to no support is required beyond the creation of the files. For example, if it ends up taking 10 hours per hour of content, the cost per hour balloons above $200. At higher scale, management costs also quickly rise.

At lower quantities, in-house captioning may be a good way to save a few dollars. But, when scale is required, the costs will most definitely rise while quality and consistency will almost always suffer because transcription and captioning just isn’t what a university student or intern is trained to do.

For those who would like to brave the do-it-yourself world, here are some tools to help:
DIY Captioning Tips
Universal Subtitles
Subtitle Horse (web-based)
MAGpie (Windows and Mac)
SubTitle Workshop (Windows only)

For everyone else, here is some information about how we’ve built a scalable transcription service.

Webinar Q&A: Actionable Answers to Your In-House Captioning Questions

If you have questions about the in-house captioning process, we highly suggest looking through his answers, below.

Captioning Resources (Money, Time, People)

Q: Where did the money come from? Did debts chip in at all, or did you generally use university money?

KOREY SINGLETON: Actually, no. It’s all central funding. So our money has come from central funding. And I think part of the reason is because in the past, we were having fights with Disability Services about who pays. Because they had a tight budget. We had a tight budget. And so when we wrote our proposal, we went specifically up through the Provost’s office to try and get Central Funds to back it.

And so at this point, we essentially have Central Funds backing whatever we do. So if, for example, we run over our budget, then Central will cover any overruns.

Q: A lot of people are noting that the challenges that you’ve experienced appear to be less on tech side of things and are more about the person hours needed to create a comprehensive program. They’re wondering if you could talk more about your coaching and training process for your grad students and staffers.

KOREY SINGLETON: Well the coaching and training process– the tech process was the huge part of it in the beginning, honestly. And the tech process was huge in terms of figuring out what we were going to do, what platform we were going to use. Now once you figure out what platform you were going to use, once we settled on YouTube, it was training the students and ourselves on how we go and actually caption within YouTube.

And again, it was training on several different tools because we were using Docsoft at the time– transcript editor– to do some editing. We were using Movie Captioner to do some editing. We were using YouTube itself to do some editing. And so when we brought students in, we really talked about all of those tools, and said, whatever you find easiest to use, go ahead and use. But we’re going to show you how all three work.

Now that was effective for us. For some people, it may just be, we’re only going to use YouTube. Or we’re only going to use whatever. And then you kind of go that route. Now once you settle on some tools and some platforms, then it’s just a matter of writing out a workflow that everybody can kind of follow and figure out, and kind of fall in line with. And that’s what we were able to do with some of the different tools that we used.

Now as far as coaching with faculty and staff, it really had more to do with– in-house, we figure out what’s an easy way for people to kind of fall in line in terms of making requests and getting feedback from faculty and instructional designers on what was difficult, what wasn’t difficult, and blah blah blah. And once we kind of took all that feedback and incorporated it back into our process, it resulted in an online process that made it easy for people to submit stuff. It resulted in a few different ways that faculty members could get the videos to us. And it resulted in us going and talking to the instructional designers and educating them on exactly how they make requests.

And once we were able to kind of get our quote unquote “mouthpieces” out there, to kind of echo what we were going to say in front of people, that helped a lot as well.

What’s the most labor-intensive part of the process?

KOREY SINGLETON: I would say that’s the captioning itself. So manually sitting down and captioning– and that’s one of the reasons we had to cut down the number of minutes that we actually process in-house. In the early part of the process, I was doing a lot of the manual captioning myself.

And to caption something that’s 60 minutes, 90 minutes, is just very difficult to do if that’s not your day job. And when I’m doing that and balancing all these other different things that I had to do here in the office — as well as other staff members, too. If that wasn’t your sole duty, then it’s a very difficult thing to do.

And it can easily run into days on end where you have things just sitting that aren’t getting done. Or you have this video there really needs to go out and you’re still stuck trying to edit it and clean it up. So the biggest part, really, is the transcription and cleanup part itself.

Campus Relations

Q: Could you talk more about your relationship with IT, DSO [Disability Services Office], and faculty, and specifically how you work with them to provide campus-wide captions?

KOREY SINGLETON: With the Information Technology Unit, there are two specific offices we work mostly with. One is the Instructional Design team. They have played a large role in helping faculty transition their face-to-face courses to online. And so we work to provide the instructional designers with training on how to incorporate accessibility into the course development process. Part of that includes the captioning process.

And we did have one instructional designer in the very beginning who was basically our guinea pig in the captioning pilot process. And we’ve had other instructional designers who’ve given us a lot of feedback on ways we can improve or try to get more faculty buy-in. So that’s one unit.

The other unit in ITU that we work closely with was Online Learning Services. And Online Learning Services manages the Kaltura Video Management platform. But they also manage Blackboard. And so in terms of being able to figure out how we push content from Kaltura into our Blackboard courses– because we’ve had to do a lot of hand off with that during the pilot process now. That’s one other way that we’ve worked closely with Online Learning Services. We also work with them on using the 508 player, which is Kaltura’s accessible video player, as opposed to just using the standard skins that they have available.

And with Disability Services, it really involved us working closely with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Coordinator to identify what classes the students who are Deaf and hard of hearing are enrolled in, making sure those faculty members know that any videos in their class need to be captioned, and getting those faculty members– educating them on how they submit their videos to us to be captioned. I think that answers your question.


Q: There’s a question here about how difficult it was to get stakeholders to buy in, and whether or not there are still outliers in your organization.

KOREY SINGLETON: There are outliers. The outliers have more to do with– I’m sure there are some folks who are still thinking about it as, well, I don’t have anybody who’s d/Deaf of hard of hearing. There are folks who just don’t know. Because again, the university can easily be siloed. And they’re just not paying any attention. Or they don’t think about the need. Somebody mentioned marketing– marketing is a good example of a unit that probably needs to think a little bit more in terms of accessibility and broadening their reach, but they’re not considering it.

So I would say yes. As far as the academic units that haven’t been brought in, I would again probably piggyback off the two previous responses. Which is that many don’t know the service probably exists. And some think about it more in terms of, I don’t have a student who’s d/Deaf or hard of hearing who has an immediate need.

Captioning Policies

Q: Someone else is asking, are you captioning for the entire university, or just for accommodation requests?

KOREY SINGLETON: No, we are actually captioning for the entire university. So we will accept requests from any faculty or staff member for videos that are going to be used in face-to-face, online courses, or on websites. So we’ll caption for any of those. Our priority is, of course, students who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing and their needs in the classroom. But we’ll caption for anybody in terms of compliance.

And so as you saw in the numbers earlier, 3/4 of what we get are people who are complying, and not just wondering whether or not they have a student who’s d/Deaf or hard of hearing in their class.

Q: There’s another question here asking whether there are specific DE courses, like core or required courses, that specifically have captioning policies — if all videos in those courses need to be captioned, for example.

KOREY SINGLETON: To my knowledge, no. As far as any specific online programs, I do not know of any. It is the practice of the Office of Distance Education for any online courses that are coming through their umbrella– which is pretty much most of the online courses here at the university now– they’re going to be looked at for accessibility, captions being a part of that accessibility.

Existing Uncaptioned Media

Q: What have you done about existing media content that was never captioned? And how far back did you go, if you did caption existing media?

KOREY SINGLETON: For existing media that hasn’t been captioned, we’ve done them basically on an as-needed basis. So if a faculty member has video from the library that they then want to incorporate into their class, they can submit a request. And we’ll have it captioned.

But we don’t go back and just start looking randomly at the collections. That was one thing we thought about doing early on, and it just became– it’s a drop in a bucket. It’s just too much. So we just kind of focus on everything going back on an as-needed basis.

So a faculty member makes a request to the library. The library gets that request to us as far as getting it captioned. And we work with the library on digitizing it, captioning it, and making sure that it’s streamed through the proper channels.

Q: How did you work with the library to make existing content accessible?

KOREY SINGLETON: With the library, there are a couple of different things that happen. When a request comes in, oftentimes we will check it to see if the library owns a copy of it already. If the library owns a copy, then we will reach out to the Media Services librarian to say, hey, you own a copy of this. Can you check to see if it’s captioned already?

And they will go– because their online database is not totally up to date to identify which videos are captioned and which aren’t. And so once they receive a request from us to actually go and check that resource, they’ll check the resource to see if it’s captioned. If it’s captioned, and the only thing we’re talking about is having it digitized, they’ll digitize it for us. And then we’ll get them linked to the faculty member. If it’s not captioned, then what happens is the library will digitize it, get the file back to us, and then we will outsource it to have it captioned. Or we will caption it in-house, depending on the length of the file.

Copyright and Fair-Use

Q: There are a few questions here about copyright and fair use issues. Korey, if there’s anything you want to add to your discussion of copyright, I’m sure people would be interested.

KOREY SINGLETON: There are a couple of things that I’ll add to that. In terms of copyright, we made a decision in the beginning that we would err on the side of accessibility over copyright. So if you’ve got a student in the class who needs the video, and everybody else is going to be watching this video, but you know it would get flagged for copyright, because a faculty member’s just thrown it up there, we’re going to make sure that the video’s captioned so that student has exactly what they need. With the library, we’ve had a lot of discussions around copyright issues and accessibility issues. And we’ve really tried to partner closely with the library to make sure that we address any copyright challenges up front.

And so part of our copyright manager– I can’t even think of what Claudia’s title actually is. But she’s in charge of the Copyright Office. And so we partner closely with her, the Media Services librarian, and the Distance Education librarian to really try and address any issues around copyright. But they know that our attitude and our practice is that we are going to err on the side of accessibility if we have to.

Marketing Content

Q: Does your marketing department caption their videos?

KOREY SINGLETON: No. That’s actually a good question. I’m pretty sure our marketing department is not captioning most of the videos. We will reach out to them to try and get videos captioned. If we see things that go up online– I mean, by no means have we covered everything here. So there are a number of units, and that might include our marketing department, that don’t always think about captioning up front. And so, because we have a process, we can actually start to push more. And we’re not as worried about the technology part. From our own perspective, we can start marketing a little more effectively. And that’s one of the units we probably need to work closely with.

Tracking In-House Captioning Metrics

Q: Someone else is asking what tools and strategies you use to track your metrics, like minutes or who’s requesting– that kind of thing.

KOREY SINGLETON: Mainly, everything is done through SharePoint. And so mainly we look when people kind of submit minutes and all that kind of stuff. Originally we were pulling everything in using CommonSpot. We’d basically pull all the information in that comes, and we can upload it into a spreadsheet. The big part is really to have that as a part of the online request form. So we have the faculty members input how many minutes and all that kind of detail. And then once it gets pulled in, we can actually just start quantifying that stuff after a while.

Community Colleges

Q: Do you have any comparative data or lessons for community colleges that are looking for captioning solutions?

KOREY SINGLETON: No. I don’t have any comparative information for community colleges. What I would encourage is there are a couple listservs out there– one is DSSHE, which is D-S-S-H-E, Disability Support Services in Higher Education. DSSHE is a listserv. There’s also the AHEAD, listserv, which is the Association on Higher Education and Disability. Both of those listservs, if you were interested in sending an email, getting registered with those listservs, but sending an email out to them to kind of find out what other institutions of higher education are doing, I think those would be great places to start, in terms of finding out what’s out there.

Another listserv that I would mention is ATHEN, which is the Access Technology in Higher Education Network. And ATHEN is more the folks who do what I do in higher education. DSSHE and AHEAD are folks who are more so situated in the Disability Services Office, and not really as technology-heavy. But one of those three listservs I think would be very helpful in terms of finding out more information about how other institutions of higher education are doing the same thing.

In Retrospect

Q: If you knew, back when you started, what you know now about getting buy-in from faculty to have videos captioned, what would you have done differently?

KOREY SINGLETON: I think what we would have probably done differently– a few things. We would have known up front which platform we were going to use. We would have known up front what we were actually going to train the students on. That way we would have given the students the best opportunity for success. And in my eyes, that would have been focusing on transcripts.

The training part with Docsoft and all those other kinds of things– what you’re seeing with us is our process, which is what’s worked for us, and what we’ve kind of used to figure out. There are a lot of people who are just outsourcing videos. They’re outsourcing their stuff to have it transcribed, but then they’re doing the time-stamping in-house. And then you have other folks who are using, say, Docsoft to have their stuff time-stamped. And then it goes out for somebody to clean up the transcript.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used. This is just ours. And it’s worked very effectively for us. But I think if we had known more about what all these other folks were doing, or maybe knew a little bit more about what challenges they encountered, I probably would have spent more time doing some research to kind of find out about other folks who are doing captioning, to kind of find out where the hiccups were, and where we could have saved ourselves some time.