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Whiteboard Wednesday: How Captioning Methods Relate to Quality and Budget

By: Aylin Dunham
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Colleges, universities, and schools are starting classes, and many of you in the educational technology and educational media space may be turning your attention to ensuring that all media used in your courses is accessible, and selecting vendors and software to assist with this process. In our September edition of Whiteboard Wednesday we cover closed captioning methods, and how the methods used relate to quality and cost of closed captioning.

Video Transcript

Hi, this is Courtney with Automatic Sync, and in this video we will discuss the methods commonly used by closed captioning services, how they affect the quality of your captions, and your captioning budget.

Just to be clear, we are covering captioning for pre-recorded video; the methods and standards for captioning live video are quite different.

First let’s look at the original method, where both text of the captions and the timing is done completely manually.  This method is still used by professional captioning companies that serve the major broadcast networks and movie studios with large production budgets.  It produces high quality captions, but it comes at a high price: typically $7 – $10 per minute of content.

The next method was pioneered by Automatic Sync in efforts to bring down the cost of closed captioning services by using smart automation.  We still use trained, professional transcribers, but they focus primarily on the accuracy of the text in the captions, not the timing.  Our automated online process creates the perfectly timed caption files that your viewers see when they click the CC button.  Captions produced by this method, using professional transcribers, generally cost in the $2 – $3 per minute range, depending on your volume and turnaround time needs.

Now let’s look at a couple of newer methods for closed captioning.  The popularity of speech recognition apps like Siri has encouraged companies to try to completely automate the closed captioning process using speech recognition. Companies using this method quickly realized that it did not produce adequate results, so they added trained editors to the process.  These editors review the initial transcript created by a speech recognition engine, and correct the numerous errors.  This method can work pretty well if the editors are diligent, but it ends up costing about the same as the CaptionSync smart automation method — generally in the $2 – $3 per minute range.

The newest method employed by some closed captioning services is crowdsourcing. With this method a workload is split up amongst a large remote workforce of anonymous volunteers or amateurs. The task of transcribing clips of your videos is performed by untrained and unqualified individuals, who often take this kind of work for a small amount of extra cash. Crowdsourced captions can appear to be quite inexpensive — often in the $1 – $2 per minute range. However, the quality and reliability of this method is inconsistent.

This infographic shows the error rate each of these methods. As you can see, the more traditional methods using professional transcribers have a consistent error rate below 1%. The newer methods can have error rates of 5% and up.

Now this graph shows you how well you can comprehend captions at different accuracy rates. Even at 95 – 98% accuracy, your viewers will have challenges understanding the content. Anything below, and the comprehension begins to drop quite dramatically. Once below the 90% mark, the captions are almost impossible to understand.

We can’t stress enough the importance of providing fair and equal accommodation for the deaf and hard of hearing audience. By using newer captioning methods that aren’t yet perfected or that are done by unqualified individuals, you may end up spending money on something that does not achieve its original goal, which is to provide equal access to your video content.

For more information you can read our blog posts about captioning methods or about captioning cost. You’ll find the links below. Thank you for watching this Automatic Sync Whiteboard Wednesday.