With video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo offering subtitles which use voice recognition software and automated timings, the future might seem bright for audiences looking to access more video content. For those new to the subtitling industry as well as video production, automation might look like the perfect solution, but appearances can be deceiving. At Capital Captions, we work with video transcription and subtitling every day. We know enough about the industry to understand the major differences between automated subtitles vs professional closed captioning – and they’re huge!
So before you go crazy ordering automated subtitle services at rock bottom prices, or adding YouTube subtitles which are unedited and made without proper transcripts, consider some of the reasons why you should always choose professional subtitle services.
Voice Recognition Software for Subtitles
It’s amazing how optimistic society is about voice recognition software, and why not? If you contact a call centre nowadays, you can just say what you need and Bob’s your uncle, you’re through to the right place! Except at least 50% of the time, that’s not the case. Instead, you need to say it twice, annunciate your words, speak louder or just outright give up and keep pressing zero.
It’s common knowledge that voice recognition software struggles in the simplest of situations, where there is no background noise, no over speaking, and only a few simple words need to be recognised. Expecting software to be able to understand and differentiate between accents, identify speakers and know which background noises to exclude is highly unrealistic. Currently, only humans can write high quality subtitles; preferably professional subtitlers with subject knowledge, a good ear and an expert grasp of punctuation and grammar.
Automated Subtitle Line Splitting
When writing professional subtitles, a transcriptionist needs to consider three things:
- The reading speed of the target audience (worked out at either characters per second or words per minute).
- Natural pauses that occur in speech, or silences which occur in the subtitled video.
- Parsing of clauses, which means splitting parts of a sentence into logical components to make subtitles which are neat and easy to read.E.g. starting a new subtitle line following a full stop, comma or semi colon.
It may be possible to programme automation software to do each of these things individually in order to create well structured subtitles. However, the captioning process is not as simple as that. Often dialogue speed, sentence complexity and sound breaks in a video clash. Consequently, this means the subtitler has to make logical decisions on which aspect to prioritise for the best results. A machine can’t weigh pros and cons to make a logical, educated decision, and that’s another reason to favour the human approach.
Consider Closed Captioning
Subtitles and closed captions are not the same thing. Closed captions contain description of relevant sound effects and background noise; description of vocalisations, speaker identification and specific formatting to indicate narrative. Whilst for very clear, simple videos can achieve high quality subtitling through automation, closed captions truly cannot.
Automated software can’t think of the best way to describe a grunt. Or choose which is the best description: a shriek, a scream, or a shout! Professional closed captions are like an art form. They should aspire to tell a story of sound and not just capture speech.
Summary for Automated Subtitles vs Professional Closed Captioning
So now we’ve looked at the main differences, the two work styles can battle it out and we’ll see who wins the fight. It’s the benefits of automated subtitles vs professional closed captioning…
Benefits of Automated Subtitling
• Automation is typically free, and additional editing may also be low cost
• Videomakers can easily add captions, especially for social media or YouTube subtitles
• Very quick subtitle turnaround – almost instant
Benefits of Professional Closed Captions
• Accurate transcription of speech without incoherent mishears
• Accurate, logical caption timings
• Easy to read subtitles that don’t confuse the viewer with syntactic errors
• Descriptive, well thought out closed captions that improve accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Though professional subtitling services won’t add captions instantly, fast turnarounds are readily available
Well, there you have it. I doubt any reader could possibly be surprised that professional closed captioning services have won the trophy! For those who don’t create or use subtitles regularly, the impact of poor quality captions is often underestimated.
Don’t get us wrong – it’s not that we dislike automated subtitles. Far from it. Automated subtitles pave the way for subtitling on a massive global scale. Theoretically, some day video content could be available to all for little to no effort. But the industry needs to do a lot more work for that to happen.
We would actually encourage using automated YouTube subtitles for anyone who has no budget for subtitle services. However, we’d suggest that those subtitles need to be proofread, edited and in some cases, even completely rewritten to be fit for purpose. In truth, the effort, time and money spent correcting today’s automated subtitles can completely justify forking out a little more for a professional closed captioning company to do it, and minus the hassle!