YouTube admits automatic captions have a way to go

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Friday, 6 February 2015 09:44am

Google’s YouTube has admitted that it needs to work harder to provide better quality automatic captions for content uploaded to its video streaming service.

YouTube logo on a frame of a filmstrip

In comments made to the BBC, YouTube said that, while it believed having automatic captioning for video content was better than have no captioning at all, there was still plenty of room for improvement.

The problem, YouTube says, is that being able to both rapidly and accurately recognise speech, amid a vast array of different accents, is a complex problem yet to be solved by computer science.

YouTube’s admission follows the launch in late December of a campaign by hearing-impaired video blogger, Rikki Poynter, and video messaging app, Glide.

The campaign calls on YouTubers to include captions with all of their videos, include a transcript and use the hashtag “#withcaptions” to better identify and promote video content using captions.

Promoting the campaign in the launch video on YouTube, Glide spokesperson Sarah Snow said, “Hey YouTube, we need to talk. I've noticed that a lot of creators on YouTube don't include closed captions in their videos, which makes it not accessible for everyone [because], here's the thing—we don't hear you; we see you.

“We're visual communicators. We want to watch your next video, so please, include closed captioning. YouTube has made it really easy for creators to add closed captioning to their videos. And if you add them, we'll definitely like, comment, share and subscribe.

“This can have a huge impact and change the way creators connect with their audiences but we need your help to make it happen, so if you love watching videos on YouTube please tag your favourite creator and reach out to them and ask them if they can upload their next video with closed captions. And if you're a creator yourself, please, please, please upload your next video with closed captions and use the hashtag #WITHCAPTIONS!”

The campaign is evidence of the growing awareness of the important role that captions play in making visual content accessible—be they internet video streaming services, subscription television or free-to-air television.

Google has recently announced an increased focus on HTML5 over Adobe Flash for YouTube videos, showing promise for increased accessibility.

For its part, Media Access Australia has recently provided evidence before the Australian Parliament and developed policy guidance on the role of captions in Australia’s media landscape. The organisation’s annual CAP THAT! campaign works to increase awareness  and use of captioned video content in the country’s classrooms.

Media Access Australia also provides detailed instructions on How to caption a YouTube video.

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