Sometimes all it takes is to ask to have a video captioned.
That’s what happened to me earlier this month; let me tell you my story.
If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you know I’m an avid birdwatcher.
My weekends are filled with hikes in the backwoods, along lakeshores and farm fields, gazing at the sky and peering through tree branches for a glimpse of birds.
That’s why I was thrilled to discover the new Birds of North America series on YouTube that came out this spring.
Hosted by Jason Ward, the series releases a new (less than 10 minutes) episode about birds and birdwatching every Sunday afternoon.
Ward is a lively storyteller, and you can’t help but feel you’re on the trail with him as he describes a Swainson’s Thrush on a log in New York City’s Central Park in the premiere episode.
After watching the second episode on warblers, I was hooked.
But with the third episode, when Ward visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, I noticed an issue.
Where are the Captions?
In the third episode, Ward took a backdoor tour of the museum’s bird collections with Paul Sweet, director of American Museum of Natural History.
The museum has the most taxonomically-diverse collection of bird specimens in the world.
As they looked at the collections, I noticed the episode had real captions.
Yay! The producers created the video episodes thinking of their end user.
Then I realized the second episode didn’t have real captions. What happened with that episode?
Could they have been overlooked? Still in process?
Since Topic, the producers of the video series, are active on Twitter, I quickly sent a tweet to them.
Excited to watch this episode! I'm a longtime birdwatcher and love these. Question: this episode was captioned, but Warblers in North America episode isn't captioned, do you know why? Autocaptions aren't correct, "I started really burning for exercise…" #BirdsOfNorthAmerica
— Deborah Edwards-Onoro (@redcrew) April 4, 2019
They were quick to respond.
The next morning, I received the following reply:
Hi! Thanks for flagging (and for watching)! The captions should be updated now.
— Topic (@topicstories) April 5, 2019
I thanked Topic for their quick response and for adding captions to their episode.
Based on my past experience asking about captions, adding captions in less than one business day is impressive!
Ask Producers for Captions
For years, I’ve asked video producers to add captions to their videos. I’ll send an email message or a reply to their promotion tweet about their latest episode.
I can’t say I get the same, quick results as I did from Topic.
But asking for the captions raises awareness to video producers of the benefits of captions.
With Topic, I highlighted the poor autocaptions and referenced their previous episodes that were captioned.
Over the years, I’ve learned that sharing the poor video autocaptions is a powerful way to encourage video producers to caption their videos.
While autocaptions are getting better every year, they still have room to improve accuracy.
Share Captioning Options
Many video producers already know about captions and have an internal person/team who handles captions.
For producers who aren’t familiar with captions, I explain they can use third-party services to caption their videos.
Or they can allow other people to add captions to their YouTube videos by enabling community contributions (sadly, YouTube removed community contributions feature in September 2020).
Do-it-yourself captions are also an option, but they take an investment of time and effort.
Missing video captions could be due to any number of reasons.
If you notice the videos you watch are missing captions, start a conversations with the producer. Ask, “Did you know there are no captions for the video?”
In my case, it helped that Topic had already created captioned videos in the past.
Have you had similar results when you asked for captions for videos? Share your experiences in the comments.