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Captioning Industry: What Is Changing and What It Means For You

By: Aylin Dunham
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We first spoke about the importance of transcriber wages and its relationship to captioning results in September of this year. As we’re moving forward into the next year, we thought we’d do a follow-up as there have been significant changes and many people are probably thinking about what to do with their captioning workflow for the new year.

What’s Changed in The Captioning Industry?

In the video accessibility and captioning industry we continue to see changes in the way some captioning companies pay their transcribers, particularly among companies that use a crowd-sourcing approach to transcription. In some cases, this has led to a decrease in the payment that transcribers receive for their work. Due to this change in transcriber wages, it’s important to keep track of your captioning vendor’s practices, as it may have a direct impact on the quality of your results.

What It Means To Be a Transcriber Now

When we last spoke about transcriber wages, we noted how people might assume that a transcriber who gets $0.40 per minute of content is earning a respectable $24 per hour ($0.40 x 60). However, the reality is that it takes an untrained transcriber 5 -10x the duration of the video to accurately transcribe a video. The duration of time needed to accurately transcribe a video depends on the subject matter, number of speakers, and level of complexity of the video content. And with median efficiency rate of 7x, we know now that a transcriber who is getting paid $0.40 per minute of content is actually earning $3.43 per hour (($0.40 x 60) / 7).

Given the recent changes in transcriber wages, we are noticing that some transcribers have been getting paid wages as low as $0.30 per minute of content transcribed, meaning that a transcriber with an efficiency rate of 7x would now be earning approximately $2.50 per hour (($0.30 x 60 / 7). In both of the calculations above, transcribers are earning far below what is considered a living wage and far below the poverty level as well, in the U.S. and many other countries.

Why It Matters

While it’s important to consider the cost of captioning, it’s also important to consider the ways that captioning companies pay their transcribers, as it can have a significant impact on the quality of your captioning results and the security and privacy of your video content.

An extremely cheap captioning provider may seem appealing to those trying to stick to a budget, but a closer look reveals that these solutions end up costing you more in the long-term. In order to provide such a low-cost service, captioning vendors often use alternatives like crowd-sourcing, speech recognition, and inexpensive offshore labor — solutions which significantly diminish the quality of your caption and description results. If your goal is to create accessible video, these solutions may seem like a “quick fix” that end up costing you more time and money to fix in the long term.

For higher education institutions, the accuracy of your captions and descriptions is crucial to providing effective accommodations and ensuring that material is accessible. Students, faculty, and staff will need to access the material, and providing accurate results will ensure that your content is accessible and compliant with federal guidelines. To ensure compliance, institutions and organizations should consider the practices of their captioning vendors. AST has done some research on accuracy and comprehension that might be useful for your research.

If your organization needs to follow FERPA or HIPAA rules, or there are other confidentiality restrictions for your videos, as is common with research and engineering content, you should also be careful when selecting a captioning company. Crowd-sourcing vendors may expose your data to a much wider group of people than you intended.

Questions To Ask

Now that you know about the changes happening in the captioning industry, you should begin to ask questions about your current captioning vendor. Similarly, if your organization or institution is thinking of implementing a captioning solution, consider the company’s transcription practices as a good starting point in your evaluations.

As we mentioned before, a good place to start is also to ask whether the transcribers used by a company are based in the US. If a captioning company claims that most of their transcribers are based in the U.S. (or the broader term North America), ask them what percentage of the work is performed in the U.S., and whether they can provide an auditable guarantee that your work is performed in the U.S. (AST can provide such a guarantee, if you want it).

We understand that creating an easy and efficient video accessibility workflow can be difficult, especially in light of the changes happening in the captioning industry. It’s AST’s goal to help you make video truly accessible. If you need any help getting started with video accessibility or want to talk with us about important topics related to the captioning industry, please reach out to us! We are happy to help.