Easy Captioning for YouTube

As a media producer and distributor I have a moral and in some cases legal responsibility to provide web video captions for my audiences. I have become particularly sensitive to this responsibility while working at RIT, the home of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Not only is accessibility important for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, but captioning can provide all audiences with enhanced search and indexing functions. Captioning can also enhance learning comprehension, especially when the speaker is using complex terminology, has an unfamiliar accent, or if the video’s audio quality is not clear. Captions also allow for flexible access to your media, say- viewing from a device or in an environment that does not allow for sound.

YouTube allows for closed captioning. Closed captions are those that can be turned on or off (as opposed to open captions that remain on the screen at all times). I love the closed caption feature for my audiences. I work especially with student groups who are producing amateur works and the amateur look and feel is very important to them. Open captions can create a feeling of a more produced work.

Of course there are limitations to every technology (for now) and there will be times when captioning will just have to wait. Newsworthy video often gets a pass on captioning. Because of its time sensitive nature, news media may be posted without captions at first and transcribed later. Direct uploads from mobile devices will also run into this problem. I have yet to find a solution that allows for video capture and upload “from the grid” with any kind of captioning tools.

YouTube LogoClosed Captions

The good news is, YouTube has an excellent captioning tool and it is fast and easy to use! Here is my play-by-play, but you can get into a heck of a lot more detail on YouTube’s Help Site.

Step One:

Upload your video to YouTube. In your video’s editing-mode you will find a tab labeled “Captions and Subtitles.”

Step Two:

Watch your video and write out a text file. Hopefully your not transcribing a feature film. A 5 minute video will take you about 20 minutes to type up once you have the hang of it. You will want to use a plain text file (.txt) to avoid any unwanted formatting issues. Notepad (Windows) or Text Edit (Mac) work best. While typing your transcript it is helpful to introduce each speaker (ex. ASHLEY>> Ashley says something.) Understand captioning styles will vary. While transcribing enter a ‘return’ after each speaker or frame. Don’t spend too much time stressing over this initial write up. YouTube’s transcription tool will do a pretty good job syncing it all up for you.

Step Three:

Upload your text file. In the “Captions and Subtitles” tab you will want to click “Add New Captions or Transcript”. Then, browse for your file and select “Transcript file (English only) (*beta*).” Keep your language as English and enter a title if you want (ex. Test_1). Uploading the file should go quickly.

Step Four:

Watch your video with the captions turned on. It will not be perfect, but it should be pretty close. If you stay in the “Captions and Subtitles” tab, you can click on the caption name (English-Test_1) and view your transcript with the machine transcript time codes. Make notes of what will need adjusting.

Step Five:

Download your caption file (now with time codes) and open it in Notepad (or TextEdit.) It may look like one long streaming mess, but feel free to organize it with returns if need be. All that will matter now is that those time codes are in there. Adjust the timing where needed making sure not to add any spaces in your time codes while adjusting them. The machine will not be able to read them. You’ll know if you’ve done this because your captions will come streaming into a frame all at once.

Step Six:

Upload the file again. You may need to name it something different.

Lather, rinse, repeat. First timers might need to make adjustments a few times before getting the hang of it, but after you have it down I guarantee it will be a breeze.

And you are done! Good work team. Please leave any tricks of the trade you come across in the comments!