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Webinar Series: Captioning YouTube Videos That Aren’t Yours

By: Aylin Dunham

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With many educators using YouTube videos as supplemental material for their courses, the demand for quality captioned YouTube videos is growing. But how do you add captioning to a YouTube video if it is not yours?  In this webinar, Kevin Erler guides you through captioning YouTube videos that you do not own, using the CaptionSync Smart Player.

Note: The following video should be considered an alternative to the Annotated Transcript, which contains descriptions of visual references in the media. Also, the pages listed in the Resources section are primarily text-based, and will be useful to those who do not have access to the visual images.

Annotated Transcript

>> Kevin Erler: Hello and welcome to our AST webinar series. My name is Kevin Erler, and today I’ll be giving a brief overview of how to caption YouTube videos that you do not own. With over 300 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day, YouTube presents an amazingly broad selection of content to draw from, and many faculty use YouTube videos in class or as supplemental material for their courses. One of the important issues to consider when using content from YouTube is how to make it accessible.

YouTube provides essentially two options for adding captions to a video. First, the video owner can upload a professionally created caption file. The key element here is that only the owner can add the caption file to the video. Alternatively, viewers can enable YouTube’s auto-caption feature to view machine-generated captions when no professional captions are available. Note that the video owner can disable auto-caption, so this option will only be available if the owner has not disabled it.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with YouTube’s auto-caption feature. It is a speech recognition-based option that provides machine-generated captions when the video owner has not provided a professional caption file. It’s enabled by default, but again the video owner can turn it off if they do not wish to have the option presented to viewers. Because it’s speech-recognition based, the error rate is very high. For some videos, the viewer can sort of get the gist of what is being said, but for most videos the result is either embarrassing or just downright comedic. Let’s take a quick peek at this sample video here to get a sense of why using auto-captions is just not a viable option for accessibility in education.

[ Background Noise ]
>> Hey, everybody. It’s Catherine, and today I’m here with a video that I hope is coming at a decently good time. I’ve gotten so many requests for this video I thought I’d just go ahead and make it at the beginning of the summer as opposed to the end. I’m not sure when — when most of you are heading off to college, probably in August, but a lot of people want to know exactly what they should put on their–

[ Text of auto-captions shown on screen with minimal punctuation: “everybody its Catherine and today I’m here the video that I hope this current at diesel in good time i’ve got so your classes they are much go ahead make at beginning of summer as opposed to and I’m not sure when it may not agree heading off to college ball in August by of people I know exactly what they should put on their….” See also note on updates to the auto-captions.]

>> Kevin Erler: So, as you saw there, the auto-captions can leave the viewer pretty lost. I’ve also given you a link here to our own video detailing more information about YouTube’s auto-captions and how to disable them if you don’t want them available on your YouTube videos.

While you may be ensuring that all the videos that you upload to YouTube are properly captioned, the unfortunate reality is that most YouTube video owners do not caption their videos. So if you want to show a YouTube video that you do not own, and it is not properly captioned, then what are your options? Well, I see only three choices. The first one is to upload a caption file to the video. That means locating the owner and convincing them to add captions to their own video. Even if you create the caption file for them, it is probably still going to be quite a challenge to get the video owner to put the caption file in place for you. The second option is to rip the video, caption it, and then repost it on your own YouTube account. That of course creates a number of copyright issues and is also more technically involved. The third option that we came up with is to use the CaptionSync’s Smart Player. The Smart Player embeds the existing YouTube video, playing it directly from YouTube, and then constructs a frame around the video, which includes numerous extra playback features including captions. I don’t think the first two options are viable at all, so the remainder of this webinar will focus only on the third option.

So, let’s talk a moment about how the Smart Player works. As I already mentioned, video is embedded from YouTube. It’s not copied or ripped. The Smart Player plays that video from YouTube and then constructs a frame around the video. It pulls the caption data directly from your CaptionSync account and uses that data to display an interactive transcript as well as regular captions. It also provides numerous other features using that caption data, and those features are explored in a separate webinar that goes into detail about the Smart Player. Here’s an example of the Smart Player playing here.

>> This is Courtney with AutomaticSync. And, in this Whiteboard Wednesday, we will discuss YouTube’s automatic captioning feature and how to disable it to avoid embarrassing captioning-quality problems.

>> Kevin Erler: Okay. So, let’s talk briefly about how to get that using your CaptionSync account. It’s a fairly simple process. You start by just getting the URL for your YouTube video. I’m going to talk more about that in just a moment. Submit that URL to CaptionSync via the list of URL’s feature. Wait for the captioning to be done, and when it’s done go to the status page to look up that list of URLs that you submitted, and you’ll see an image like this [ CaptionSync URL List Details page, with final column labeled “Smart Player URL” ] where you can then generate the Smart Player link just by clicking the generate button.

In order to avoid some of the potential pitfalls of using the Smart Player with YouTube videos, it’s good to understand a little bit more about how your YouTube video is working. When a video is uploaded to YouTube, YouTube encodes several different versions of that video. Most significant for our purposes is the video that plays right on the YouTube site, and you can spot that with this URL that has the word “watch” in it. And the other one is the embed URL. This is the video that YouTube presents to websites wanting to embed a video in their own site. This is the URL that has the word “embed” in it. The other thing to know is that that encoding of multiple versions of your video may take a while, so all those versions of the video are not immediately present after you submit your video. The video owner may make the video private, now or in the future, which means that even if a video is available to you now, the owner may choose to make it private in the future, disabling your access to it. The video owner may also separately disable the embed link, so even though a video is viewable on the YouTube site, if the embed link is disabled, it cannot be viewed elsewhere. This will be important in just a moment.

Okay. So let’s go back to how you submit the video for captioning to CaptionSync. The first thing to be careful of is make sure, of course, that the video is not private. If it’s a private video, we won’t be able to access it and generate the caption for it. Make sure you are using the video URLs, not play lists or user pages or embed codes. This is the video that has, pardon me, this is the URL that had the “watch” keyword in it, like you see an example right here. When you give us the URL, the first thing CaptionSync will try to do is ingest the video, that is, to go get the video from YouTube. We may get ingest errors if the video is private or if the video is brand new and YouTube hasn’t finished creating those various versions yet. Sometimes, YouTube also gives us ingest errors if it’s just too busy to serve up our request to get the video. In those cases, it’s best to just try the fetch again.

One important thing to consider before you get too far down the captioning path is will the video work in the Smart Player. A couple important criteria here to consider; first of all, again, the video must be public, but the video also has to be embeddable, that is, the embed link has to work. You can check this before you submit the content to CaptionSync for captioning. What you want to do is visit the video on the YouTube site; that’s the watch link again. Underneath the video, you will see a screen that looks like this. Click on the share button and then click on embed. You’ll get a URL that looks like this. Cut out just the URL to the video and try to play that in a separate window. Let the window load and actually press the play button on the video and make sure that it will play. If that video will play, then the video is embeddable.

Okay. Once you’ve done all of that and you’ve got a Smart Player link, there’s one more step you can go through. You can use that link as it is, but you can also just, and rather than linking to our website with the Smart Player, you can embed the Smart Player right in your own web page. To do that, visit the Smart Player link that you’ve generated, and at the bottom here press the embed button, and it’ll give you a little piece of code that you can put right into your web page, and then the Smart Player will play as part of your own web page without being an explicit link back to ours.

Okay. And that’s it. That’s all there is to using the Smart Player in order to caption other people’s YouTube videos. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, we have a separate webinar on the Smart Player that goes into a great deal of detail on all the features and advantages you can get from using the Smart Player, and I’d encourage you to check out that webinar, but in the meantime, here’s a few other resources that you can get help on. The Smart Player documentation is available at this link right here. There is specific documentation about how to use the Smart Player with YouTube links, and, of course, there is the video I referenced earlier in this webinar that goes into some detail about the YouTube auto-caption feature. In addition to all that, our support experts are always happy to help you. You can contact them by just emailing them at Thank you for your time today. I hope this webinar was useful for you.

Resources and Notes