Closed Captioning (Finally) Comes to StreamingMedia.com

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If video on the web is every bit as much a communication medium as an entertainment vehicle, closed captioning ought to be part of any publisher’s video strategy. We’ve run many captioning-centric stories over the years and hosted conference sessions on captioning technologies and strategies at both our shows (albeit with a focus on live captioning). But only recently have we begun to caption all of the new videos we publish on StreamingMedia.com and Streaming Media Producer, including our thrice-weekly Short Cuts highlight videos from our East and West shows, our video tutorials on SMP, and video interviews we do at our own shows as well as NAB.

BlogThe kick in the pants we needed to get moving in this direction actually came from a reader of a newsletter published by Streaming Media’s parent company, Information Today Inc. (ITI), where we run weekly conference highlight videos from other ITI events such as Computers in Libraries and KMWorld. The reader said she wanted to watch our videos but was hearing-impaired and couldn't do so without captions. Once we put closed captioning in place for those videos, it was easy enough to bring Streaming Media and all of our other video publishing outlets into line.

Although there are many ways to do closed captioning for VOD, here is the workflow we adopted.

Virtually all of the video we publish on StreamingMedia.com is hosted by our OVP partner, Brightcove. In the Brightcove Video Cloud backend, when you click on a video in the Media window to enter title and description, choose or upload a thumbnail, and set other parameters for the video, toward the bottom of the right-hand column you’ll find a TEXT TRACKS field. There you can add a caption file by uploading a file or supplying a URL. Brightcove’s preferred format for caption files is VTT.

Easy enough, but of course this raises the question, where do you get a VTT file?

For years, we’ve been getting transcripts for the videos we publish, and either running edited transcripts in full alongside the videos on our article pages, or using the transcripts to provide quotes to include in the articles. For this, our vendor of choice is Rev.com, which charges $1 per minute of video, delivers nearly all transcripts in under 24 hours, and often gets them back considerably faster when the videos are short. Transcript accuracy can be hit and miss when there are a lot of codec acronyms in play, but that’s what well-informed, eagle-eyed editors are for.

As it turns out, Rev.com offers captioning as well. Moreover, captions carry the same per-minute rate as transcripts, turnaround time is about the same, and the deliverable can serve as both caption and transcript when the files are delivered (albeit with slightly less appealing formatting on the transcript file). Ordering is essentially the same, except you ask for Captions instead of Transcripts.

The best part of the Rev service (especially when you have alphabet-soup codec acronyms and the like to clean up) is that you can edit the transcript online in conjunction with the video itself, as shown below. This is really handy. Just don’t do too much editing here, lest you un-sync the captions with the video. This is purely a time for correcting errors.

When you’re satisfied with your captions, click the Download button in the upper-right corner. A dialog opens where you can choose formats. All of the popular caption formats are here, including SubRip (.srt) and Facebook ready SubRip (.srt). Because we work with Brightcove, and because I also work with transcripts for articles, I always choose WebVTT (.vtt) for the captions and Transcript (.txt) to give me a file to work with for the article that accompanies the video. The transcribers’/captioners’ work is done at this point, so it’s still $1 per minute of video total no matter how many formats you choose.

After you download and unzip (if necessary), you’re ready to upload the .vtt file to Brightcove and caption your video.

In a nutshell, that’s how we’re doing captions for VOD at StreamingMedia.com in an effort to make our video content accessible to a wider range of viewers. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of good ways to do this. If you’re doing it a different way, we’d love to hear about it.

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