Scott Hanselman

The Importance of Closed Captioning - How To and Why Subtitle

June 12, 2013 Comment on this post [15] Posted in Musings | Tools
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If you can hear well, you may have never thought about Closed Captioning or Subtitles. Perhaps you've used it once or twice to catch a missed word in a movie, or perhaps you've only read subtitles in foreign movies. But if you're one of the nearly 10M hard of hearing folks in the US or one of as many (estimates vary widely) 70M profoundly deaf people in the world, it's not the subtitles you're concerned's the lack of subtitles.

Automatic transcriptions are a start, but they are about as useful as automatic translation services. If you speak more than one language you'll agree that computer translation just isn't quite here yet. It's awesome that YouTube can attempt to auto-transcript English and it's an amazing piece of tech, but the results are sometimes ridiculous for any video content that isn't a news reader. Ultimately, today, automatic transcriptions are NOT a good answer.

animus fountains undertaking for a minute to first applebee's month second - These are BAD captions.Here's an example of some automatic captions from my 3 minute Windows 8 video:

Hanselminutes, my "fresh air for developers" podcast has long had transcripts available. Our transcription has been championed by Carl Franklin, my producer, and it IS appreciated. When a show is missed or we lag behind, people notice. You can head to our archives page, and the search supports a live-filter with an * as I've marked all transcript shows with an asterisk.

Transcripts aren't just for the hard of hearing, they are also great for folks who are learning English or people who would rather learn by reading than by listening. Not everyone has an hour to listen to a show, but they can check out the transcripts and decide if they want to bother. It also helps for SEO by allowing keywords in your podcast or video to be picked up by Google, Bing and other search engines. Often people at work want to watch a YouTube video without the volume on.

Hiring a Transcription Service

Transcribing isn't as easy as you'd think. People talk WAY faster than the average typist. Feel feel to try transcribing the news or a podcast yourself. You'll quickly find that it's hard damn work. The service that I use the most,with success, has been They used to be called FoxTranscribe and changed their name.

Ordering is easy, you can upload files or just paste in URLs. I recently had them transcribe my Productivity Talk by just giving them the Vimeo link.

Recently Rev transcribed both of my Windows 8 videos! Having good closed captioning is super important with YouTube videos, and people who are looking for subtitles are REALLY happy when they find good ones.

You can turn on Closed Captioning for YouTube videos as a permanent setting as well.

  1. Go to your Account Settings page
  2. Select Playback from the left-hand menu
  3. Check or uncheck Always show captions
    (Check Show automatic captions by speech recognition (when available) to enable automatic captions for videos that don't already have captions provided)

YouTube lets you add captions in a few ways.

Upload a Caption File and Auto-Sync

This is the easiest thing to do because it doesn't include time stamps. YouTube knows what video you're trying to caption so it can make educated guesses as to what words line up where. Time moves forward, so the guesses are usually VERY good if your transcript is a good one. That's what provided me.

Here's the first section of what gave me for the 25 minute Windows 8 Video:

Scott>> Hi. I'm Scott Hanselman. This is the Missing Windows 8 Instructional Video. I've got another video where I show you basically everything I'm going to show you in this video, except I do it in only four minutes. That might be great for techies or people who are kind of advanced. But for the rest of us, it's pretty intense and it looks a little frantic. I thought it would take some time to go through a number of things within Windows 8, like “What changed?”, “Who moved my cheese?”

See the double >> mark? That's where you indicate who is talking. And that's it! It's worked great and I'm thrilled with the result.

Upload a Caption File with Timestamps

If your video has fast cuts, lots of speakers or needs more precision, you'll want to make a a formal caption file in one of a variety of formats. A .srt file is what I see the most, but there's a number of options.

Here's a .srt example from Google:

00:00:00,599 --> 00:00:04,160
>> ALICE: Hi, my name is Alice Miller and this is John Brown
00:00:04,160 --> 00:00:06,770
>> JOHN: and we're the owners of Miller Bakery.

These files should be created by a captioning software package, in my opinion.

Regardless of how you create it, once the file is uploaded to YouTube, it works just as it should and can be turned on and off by the user.

Crowd Sourcing Transcripts

You may also be able to Crowd Source your transcripts. That's what I'm trying with This Developer's Life, the other podcast that I do with Rob Conery.

Yes, we are working on the next episode. I promise. The theme is "Space" by the way. Coming soon.

Since we have a primarily technical developer audience, I chose to use GitHub to manage things. It's very open, collaborative and clean...for a programmer. We're using Mark Down files and I hope to generate HTML and link to them directly from the This Developer's Life site. You're more than welcome to get involved and help out. There are still transcripts that need help! Check out

We've just received the complete transcript from the TDL episode where my wife and I talk about our Cancer Year. That one is currently here and the actual episode is still on the TDL site.

We used a more casual layout, but I think the result will be easy to read.

Scott: What happened yesterday, dear?

Mo: Yesterday, I was told that I have cervical cancer.

S: That sucks.

M: Yeah. That REALLY sucks. [Silence] Yeah. It does. It does. Yeah.

S: We spent most of yesterday surprisingly not crying and wailing or gnashing our teeth... but rather with quite a bit of black humor. Wouldn't you say?

M: [Laughing] Yeah, I would. I would say that. But I think what is still true is that it’s a pretty heavy thing to hear. What was particularly frustrating in our case was how we found out about it. It was just not the way that one should ever find out that you have cancer. I don’t care what kind that it is.

S: It was definitely, as I like to say, sub-optimal.

M: Sub-optimal is a very delicate way of putting it. Yes, it was sub-optimal.

I REALLY appreciate all the love that the community has given Rob and I on This Developer's Life. It's a labor of love, it takes hours and hours to make an episode and I hope you know that we are still having fun making it. We thank YOU for helping with the captions! As they get closer to being done, I'll update the site and make them easier to find.

Collaborative Subtitling Systems

There is a great online community and series of tools called Amara that is explicitly for enabling captions for media. You can order transcription services outright, but you can also crowdsource your captions directly from the tool. If you're using YouTube you can give them access to your account via OAuth and they'll update your video's captions automatically. You can volunteer and transcript videos yourself and be a part of the crowd and make someone's video more accessible!

There are also some startups in the space like EnhanceCast and 3PlayMedia that you should also take a look at.

Regardless of what you choose, I really encourage you to consider captioning your content. We're working on doing this for ASP.NET videos now as well.

If you appreciate closed captioning and subtitles, please sound off in the comments!

Sponsor: Big thanks to RedGate for sponsoring the feed this week! Check out Deployment Manager – app deployment without the stress. Deploy .NET code & SQL Server databases in one simple processfrom a web-based UI. Works with local, remote and cloud servers. Try it free.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 12, 2013 6:33
As a severely hard of hearing person, and on behalf of others with hearing loss, I thank you for writing this post to highlight this issue. This is something I deal with often when on the internet, so it's a pleasure to find an interesting video or audio recording which has an accompanying transcript or presentation.
June 12, 2013 7:53
I've traditionally used subtitles in the ways you mentioned - either as a convenience to catch muffled dialogue, or as an essential part of enjoying foreign films.

Now that I've tried my hand at transcribing, I can definitely appreciate the effort that it takes to create something accurate and useful. But it's not all altruistic either. If you listen to something, process it and type it back... it certainly has a way of making it stick to your brain a bit.

Amara looks like a good way to expose yourself to all sorts of interesting topics while helping people in the process. That's kind of the dream, eh? Thanks for sharing!
June 12, 2013 11:23
I tend to watch Doctor Who (thank you Netflix) with closed captioning. I could live without the foley bits transcribed (birds chirp, dog barks, music in the distance...), but i understand they're there for the people who don't hear at all.

I'm from Finland, so my excuse is that i'm not a native English speaker. I tend to think i know my English pretty well, but yesterday there was a glitch in the CC and i had no text at all. I don't know exactly what happened to my brain, but suddenly i couldn't understand the spoken English at all. For years, i've read the text "as a background process" without giving it much thought. Now when it was gone, it felt like i'd lost a limb, or at least, totally lost a language.

So weird.
June 12, 2013 11:26
Addendum, since i can't edit comments here. By "don't hear at all" i include situations where you're waiting for the kids to finally go to sleep in the room next door and thus want to keep your ear open for them instead/also.
June 12, 2013 16:28
This was a great one. Not only for the appropriateness of CC for hard of hearing folks ( I happen to be near normal thanks to technology). But the additional caveat was all of the tools clearly explained and how to get things captioned and such. It also exposed a lot of other activity you are involved in! I will have to check some of those out....
June 12, 2013 20:17
A big challenge with collaborative subtitling is quality control. Transcribing is tough work and many well-intentioned people produce sub-par transcripts.

Khan Academy has experimented with volunteer subtitling, only to find themselves left with a massive cleanup effort. While the volunteer transcription work was free, the team spent enough time and energy on the cleanup that it might've made sense for them to pay to outsource the effort to a low-cost vendor like Rev.
June 12, 2013 23:05
I agree automated transcription and crowd sourcing may not be the answer for everyone. Closed Captioning services have been around for as long as color television. This is the next market feeling the pinch from tremendous growth and a flat world. That being said the answers will be different for each individual and organization. For our part we have created and released a free YouTube transcription/closed caption web Application ( ) and we'll soon follow with a premium automated version. The idea is to give the individual the tools to make the process easier and for the larger content creators the ability to take control of the process when needed. I don't for a minute believe that our solutions are for everyone. But with so much new content coming online, accessible tools will speed along the process and help the content creators make Closed Captioning part of the production workflow!
June 12, 2013 23:12
Hi, this is not regarding transcriptions, but I saw the video, and noticed that you had Trello on the taskbar. I wasn't aware of the Trello for win 8 app, but now I have installed it - thanks.

How did you manage to pin the Trello app on your taskbar?
June 12, 2013 23:58
Vegard - That's the Trello website. Although, you can get the MetroMix app and pin Win8 apps if you want.
June 13, 2013 0:58
Thanks for the info. I'm still using small icons and "never combine" on the taskbar, otherwise I might have guessed it was the website :-)
June 13, 2013 19:03
Good tips on an oft-overlooked subject. Appreciate the info. Also, thanks for the Windows 8 video. Makes me feel like I will now be comfortable diving in when the time presents itself. I assume you're doing all your dev on Win8 now? How have you found it from that perspective? Visual Studio and associated tools...?
June 14, 2013 1:01
Thanks for the great article on closed captions! Keep up great job, Scott!

June 14, 2013 1:14
Great insight...never thought about it. Thanks.
June 17, 2013 0:48
Would love to point you to STAMP.

The Subtitling Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint that my team built.

Might also be useful

Not sure if it is revved for 2013 yet though.
June 19, 2013 6:58
Unless your podcast is very successful, like Hanselminutes, $30-60 per transcribed episode might be out of reach for most podcasters. I understand why it costs that much, but the expense is definitely a factor.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.