Why we transcribe

Closed captions on a YouTube video

I’m going to write about our filming of open day talks separately, but a blogpost last week from Brian Kelly had me thinking about one particular aspect first.

Brian highlights a web accessibility workshop being given at IWMW this year and asks what the business model is for captioning (amongst several other thought-provoking questions!)?

Screenshot of YouTube Creator Studio video listin

The ‘CC’ label on YouTube indicates you have provided a transcription of your video

We filmed 12 talks last week and looking at our video list in YouTube it was satisfying to see the label ‘cc’ next to each of the videos just a few days later.

That ‘cc’ label is YouTube’s indication that you’ve supplied closed captions for the video. We provide captions for all our videos and I thought it would be handy to list the benefits we get from transcribing them:

1. Accessibility

We’re making our videos available to a wider audience, specifically an audience with hearing impairments.

2. Internationalisation

Dr Who fans in the US struggled with understanding Peter Capaldi’s accent recently, we’re making our videos more useful to an international audience who might have greater difficulty following spoken english.

3. Translatable

We’re making our videos translatable. The text from our video transcript can be fed through a translation tool to make it understandable in other languages. Lots of other languages. In target markets!

Translating with YouTube

4. SEO

We’re improving the seo of our videos by providing Google with a machine readable text of the content of the video. Or at least, I think it’s likely to be helping, although some are sceptical of this claim.

5. Findable

Finding the 8 (of 14) open day videos that mention employability

Finding the 8 (of 14) open day videos that mention employability

We’re making our content searchable for ourselves. If, for example, we want to know any time we’ve talked about employability in our videos, it’s very simple to do a search on a folder of hundreds of word documents of transcripts.

6. Futureproofing

Following on from 5, we can quickly check the text of a particular video to see if we still think it’s relevant. It’s more efficient to spot issues with a 6-page word document of a 30 minute talk than to watch the video in full.

7. Avoiding auto-caption FAIL


Same video as at the top of this article, this time with YouTube auto captioning

Same video as at the top of this article, this time with YouTube auto captioning

We’re avoiding YouTube’s automated attempts at providing captions. If you don’t provide your own captions, YouTube will make a best attempt at working it out for themselves. This is incredibly impressive, but at the same time still hugely flawed. I’ve got lots of examples I’m not going to use here of times YouTube has put very inappropriate automated captions for our videos. Newsbeat wrote about it last year.

8. Improving our editing

Transcribing makes our videos better. I’ll often transcribe a video before my final edit of it and find that it leads to me making further changes to my video. I’ll realise that I could have made a cut earlier, or that a speaker is saying something that doesn’t really get to the point. Or someone says something after 3 minutes that could be moved to reinforce something said in the first minute. Seeing the text of your video written down is a really useful editing tool.

For me, transcribing is important enough for accessibility reasons alone, but the associated benefits that result from it really make the business case.



Web Manager for the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.

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