Adding Closed Captioning to Content

     Accurate closed captioning is something that I’d never given much thought to, which is strange, because my wife and I watch pretty much everything with subtitles on. She prefers it for the sake of clarity, she’s not the greatest at hearing the TV and we watch a lot of things where people have accents. If we hadn’t watched Attack the Block with the subtitles on I never would have caught a single word. Whagwan, Moses? At least with the subtitles we had a fighting chance.

     But a couple months ago I did an interview for the blog Snobby Robot (http://snobbyrobot.com/2014/01/23/platoon-of-power-squadron-average-people-but-with-way-above-average-superpowers/) and the interviewer, Chris Hadley, made a big deal about captioning. The piece is really long and great, but he ended the whole thing with: (Note: The series is not currently closed captioned, but Jarvi hopes that it will be at some point.) And I was like—Huh. That’s weird.

     Then I got tweeted at by Jamie Berke of a blogspot site called captionedwebtv. She started laying out the options for paying someone to caption the show on YouTube. There are a few companies that caption for a fee. I literally had less than 20 dollars in my checking account at that point and I made that known to her.

     At first I was pretty annoyed. Great. Another thing I have to spend hours doing myself on my free content or I’m being exclusionary. But I started to look into it and it’s recommended on several levels. In addition to opening it up to the hearing impaired audience, it also acts as a second set of tags used by search engines.

     YouTube has an auto caption program that does its best to automatically caption everything on YouTube. It’s so bad at accurately captioning that popular YouTubers Rhett and Link did a series of videos replaying sketches using the words as dictated by YouTube’s automatic captioning:

     However, a content creator can use the inaccurate captions created by YouTube, go into their settings and create a new English track by correcting the automatic ones. You can also change the timing and add other captions as well. The whole process is doable right within YouTube.

     So over the last couple months, whenever I had a few minutes between projects at work, I’d pop into YouTube and correct a few captions. I’ve now done all seven episodes and the channel trailer. I didn’t realize it until Jamie Berke got back to me and added us to captionedwebtv that, with them all broken into YouTube parts, that’s 43 videos.

     Going through every episode again and correcting the captions was an interesting way to revisit the show though. I paid much closer attention to the dialogue than I have since I first wrote it and it was nice to find that I still liked it all. The dialogue style of the show has remained consistent and the character voices all have a nice through line.

     It also made me realize how crazy it is to have someone else do the captions for your content. It took forever, so I don’t expect professional directors to sit there and do their own captions, but giving someone else control of the pacing of the dialogue in the show makes very little sense. Determining the pacing and placement of the captions very much determines the pacing of the character conversations. Dialogue reveals and comedic pacing can be thrown off if the captions are too on top of each other. Someone who only cares about transcribing dialogue might leave out the appearance of important off-screen sounds that motivate characters into action or clarify scenes. Sometimes, in scenes with multiple people in wide shots you have to specify the name of who’s speaking each line to preserve conversational clarity and characterization. If the captions are enabling new people to watch the show, it’s important to preserve all of that, or the whole thing could fall flat.

     It was interesting to re-examine the episodes so closely, preserve the dialogue pacing, and determine what noises were important enough to transcribe. Sometimes it was a huge pain, but that kind of scrutiny made me experience our show in what felt like a new way, and I liked it.

     I recommend that anyone undertaking it save often. A couple times I’d have to redo whole episode parts if the window got accidentally closed or the internet connection got compromised. For real, save often.

     You can get a feel for all the captioning I did in the Intro to PoPS in 90 Seconds. Trigger the captions by clicking on the little cc underneath the video. It appears once you’ve pressed play.

Thanks for reading.

–Jake

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