captioning books

Captioning Someone Else’s YouTube Videos

If your company or organization is serious about adding closed captions to all of your video content (and it should be) you are probably familiar with YouTube’s closed captioning features. When logged in to your YouTube account you can use the Video Manager, click on the Captions tab for a video that you have uploaded, upload a caption file that you have received from CaptionSync, and voil√†: anyone who views the video, whether embedded or on YouTube, will have access to the CC toggle and be able to view your captions.

But what if you want to add captions to someone else’s YouTube video? At Automatic Sync we have a quite a few customers at colleges and universities where instructors choose to use examples from public videos on YouTube to demonstrate a concept or add flavor to topics covered in the class. Embedding these videos on a course page in your learning management system is easy enough. But what if the publisher of the video hasn’t provided captions (unfortunately, it is estimated that less than 2% of all videos on YouTube are captioned)? Under ADA regulations and many state laws, you are required to make any video content used in your courses accessible. You could ask the original publisher to provide captions, but by the time you got a response from the publisher the course might be over. In the past, many of our customers used a service called, which allowed users to reference and caption any YouTube video, providing an embed code to a custom player that added your captions to the original YouTube video. Overstream is no longer an available option, but fortunately other options are emerging. In this blog post we will describe one simple an inexpensive option: JW Player from LongTail Video.

JW Player is billed by LongTail as “the Internet’s most popular and flexible media player,” and it is both popular and flexible. We also like other open source video players like Video.js, but at this point JW Player seems to have the best support for YouTube videos. It’s worth pointing out while the latest versions of JW Player support both Flash and HTML5 playback (meaning they can play video on mobile devices like the iPad), the method of displaying captions described below only works on Flash-capable devices. To add captions or subtitles that can be used on iOS devices you need to encode them in the video file, as described in one of our previous posts.

If you have access to a web server where you can install JW Player and store your caption files, the setup is fairly simple. You should use JW Player version 5.6 or higher for broadest YouTube compatibility and easiest setup. Follow the JW Player Getting Started page to install JW Player, and then create a subdirectory on the same web server to store your caption files. DFXP or SRT caption files with work with this approach. Upload your caption files when they are available, and then you can create embed codes for the videos that can be inserted in your learning management system, or other web pages. The embed codes are quite simple — they reference a link to the YouTube video and the caption file.

You can see here a detailed example of how to set up JW Player to play YouTube videos with your own captions.

We will describe other ways to accomplish this same task in future posts, but if you have any comments or questions about this process, please use the comments section below.

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