I interviewed Josh Miller of 3PlayMedia, to talk about Congress’ recent passing of two bills that will mandate closed-captioning of television programming over to the Internet. We discuss the questions: Will other “professional” online video programs be next? And, is legislation necessary, or will organizations determine that transcription and captioning of video content has a worthwhile ROI regardless of any mandate?

Bills’ Passing Is Step Forward For Web Video Accessibility

This month Congress unanimously passed the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (S. 3304) and the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (H.R. 3101) As Josh explained in his own post at 3PlayMedia, the two bills that have been passed will expand the requirement for web video captioning and accessibility services.  Specifically,

  1. They will require that any captioned television program be captioned when delivered over the Internet, and;
  2. They also require all devices large enough for video to be equipped to support captioning functionality.

Josh does explain in his post that while H.R. 3101 and S. 3304 have more widespread implications for television-related programming, they are still “a significant step forward” in providing a mandate for closed-captioning in online video with professional publishers and platforms.

Why Online Video Professionals Should Care

Josh explains that the original bill had called for all “television-type” programming distributed over the Internet to be captioned.  To summarize the language and intent of the original proposed bill, any professional content created solely for Internet distribution would also have to be captioned, not including user-generated content as seen on YouTube. “While the language is a bit vague in what would have been included, it is clear that the mandate for captions would have been far more widespread than the simplified bills that ended up getting passed.” Says Josh.

Arguments FOR Having Closed Captions In Online Video

  • Increased accessibility – “Captions provide a critical means of consuming video content for the 36 million people in the U.S. who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Says Josh. “Captions also offer a method to watch the television in environments in which the sound cannot be used.”
  • Improved Web search, SEO, and ROI value – “Captions have a far greater potential benefit to Internet users than to television viewers.” Says Josh. “The Internet is driven by text.  Since videos cannot be read, indexed, or navigated efficiently without the text equivalent, time-synchronized transcripts not only provide a worthwhile accessibility benefit, but they also have additional value that only the Internet could unlock.  For starters, text provides a means for search – of the SEO variety and within a large archive.”

Arguments AGAINST Having Captions In Online Video

  • Added work and costs. One of those arguments coming back to the whole thing about the Internet-only shows, says Josh, is “If you start mandating things like that, where it’s quite inexpensive to produce content and post it and share it, if all of a sudden those people are now forced to caption or transcribe their content, then the cost is far higher than what they initially started out at, and they may actually be dissuaded from creating the content.” Josh, however, wanted to clarify that “this is completely not the point of this particular legislation.”
  • Regulation complexities. The other argument is, how do you regulate this? “With so much content out there and it’s far more infinite than television, that regulation of this becomes a big issue as well.” Says Josh. “So there are definitely reasons on why this becomes difficult to make this more of a sweeping bill. Even existing bills previously passed become mandated?  It’s a very difficult balance, which is why this round of legislation stops at television programming.  I don’t think this bill will silence the outspoken supporters of more captions on the Internet.

    Grant: How you think this ruling will affect Google TV?

    Josh: If I had to guess, the ruling won’t affect Google TV, but Google TV will affect future rulings.  This particular ruling, as I understand it, is more of a first step to start providing parity with content that is already captioned on television.  It certainly expands the reach of IP-based content, so it will probably be one of many catalysts for the next round of legislation.

    Grant: Facebook has recently become a regular video content publisher with it’s own live show, and some analysts predict it planning to become a competitor to Google TV. Any comments on how this legislation may affect Facebook, or vice-versa?

    Josh: It’s definitely an interesting development since they have such a captive audience.  It seems like a great test bed for interactive/social TV.  They claim to not be getting into the content production space like UStream, which is one thing, but they could definitely be getting into social/video communication or even social TV (by partnering with more content producers).  Getting premium partners to join in shouldn’t be all that difficult should they want to include professional content. This also reinforces the prominence of video on the Internet and video’s role as a means of communication.  As this trend continues, accessibility becomes more of a concern, and more difficult to regulate as well.

    Closed Captioning Web Video Tips – The Free Option

    Here are some tips to creating your own to transcript and closed-captioning for your video (for free)

    • Have good audio. In fact, have the best audio possible. Put much more of any investment of your time and resources into making sure the audio is clear than over the actual image quality of your video. “If the audio is no good, then the alignment won’t be, either.” Say Josh.
    • Use YouTube’s free resources. YouTube already allow everyone to either upload their own transcript that can be synched with their video, or to let YouTube create it’s own caption for you with a little time after you upload your video there. I recommend checking out 3Play Media’s blog article about free captioning resources: How to create high-quality captions with the help of YouTube (and an existing transcript). You could run your video through Google’s tool, and create a draft transcript and edit that, and play around with what might be faster – starting from scratch, or running it through and editing. You can learn more about YouTube’s closed captions from our recent detailed post on the subject –In-Depth Look At YouTube Closed Captions, SEO And YouTube Indexing
    • Use 3rd party resources – Another free option is a site called subtitlehorse.org, where you can actually have an interface that allows you to type in your captions and arrange your captions in caption frames – a very nice tool.

    Choosing A Professional Closed-Captioning Online Video Service Provider

    I asked Josh, for the businesses that do see the ROI benefit, what he recommend they look for with selecting a closed-captioning service for the online video content? Below are quotes on some of his criteria selections:

    • #1 – volume. “If it’s really low volume, then it’s worth exploring some of the free options. If it’s larger volume, then understanding if they firm you’re considering can really scale and meet your needs.”
    • #2 – quality. “There’s a huge variance in quality. The consumer in transcription and captioning services needs to decide how much that matters. If quality matters, then you will notice the mistakes. If it doesn’t, then I would find a solution that just works for you.”
    • #3 – price. “The reality of the situation is first, what you can afford. Pricing can also vary quite a bit. There’s always going to be some industry vernacular or specialized vocabulary when you’re dealing with specific industries or academics, or whatever it may be. And so, in that case, I think you might want to pay attention a little more to quality and understand where the people are sourcing their labor, where the process is and how they build in their quality mechanisms. Those are the things that are worth asking about, and really making sure you know what you’re getting for your money.”
    • #4 – features. “What’s also good to look at is what can that transcription firm do besides just a transcript? Can they also do time-synchronized transcripts? There are other tools that can really leverage the text data that is linked to the media. When you’re talking about Internet content, it’s worth thinking through, what else can I get?”