OMG! I just found out there’s only 5% captioning* on YouTube

Hard to believe it’s such a small figure but YouTube have finally admitted it recently.

Here’s the (paraphrased) admission from a YouTube product manager, Matthew Glotzbach, from the BBC’s Newsbeat article:

25% of YouTube have some form of captioning and most of this figure is made up of automatic craptions*

Wait! You said 5% captioning in your headline! What kind of swifty are you trying to pull on us here?

Well as a big believer in the 80/20 rule, if we apply some basic math to the 25% total figure that we’ve finally received from YouTube, it looks like that means that there must only be around 5% of video content that actually has good quality captioning that has been uploaded by the content creators and will actually provide accessibility outcomes for people who rely on good quality captioning to watch online videos.

Let that figure sink in. A meagre, puny, miserly, negligible, scant, skimpy, paltry 5%! After more than 5 years of dedication, commitment, devotion, attentiveness, diligence, tenacity, zeal, perseverence, assiduity from Google and YouTube.

Glotzbach also claims that:

It’s an area that we’ve been committed to really from the beginning. Frankly, it’s a really hard computer science problem that hasn’t been solved that scale yet.

Yeah right!

So they simply wrote an algorithm in 2009 and then walked away from their responsibility to really provide any real or tangible solution to this major accessibility issue for online videos.

Rikki Poynter’s made a great suggestion that YouTube would probably be better off doing without the automatic craptioning “feature” on YouTube at all until it actually provided some accessibility benefits.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rikki’s recommendation.

It means that YouTube content creators wouldn’t be able to claim that they already have captions on their videos (and I estimate that 80% of my advocacy enquiries to YouTube channels starts off with them claiming that they’ve already done the right thing in this space simply by enabling automatic craptioning!).

Yes, there’s that Pareto principle again!

However, even if YouTube aren’t prepared to do the right thing by Rikki and I, then they should still consider implementing the following practical modifications and improvements to their captioning toolset, such as:

  • ensuring that the automatic craptions are treated as an “unpublished” caption track until they are reviewed and published by the content creator.

My thoughts: This would be consistent with YouTube’s existing practice of not indexing the automatic craptioning information (as they obviously must think that they’re, well you know…..%#@*!). Also, videos with automatic craptioning do not get rewarded with a “closed captioning” (cc) icon, so why should they be displayed to end users like myself?

  • improve the transparency around this issue by providing more data and reporting on the number of YouTube videos that are properly captioned or improperly captioned (aka automatically craptioned) or not captioned at all.

My thoughts: The old adage is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and whilst Google and YouTube probably have these numbers, they haven’t taken that additional step of accountability and transparency and regularly published or shared their figures, which will be vital for making any substantive improvements in this space.

  • Google and YouTube should educate and collaborate more with the governments, businesses and the advertising sector to ensure that they understand that it’s usually a very simple step for them to provide good quality captioning on their YouTube content.

My thoughts: As an advocate one of the most frustrating parts of dealing with governments, their agencies and departments and advertising companies is that there’s usually an accurate transcript lurking somewhere for a video that has been published uncaptioned (or it is only automatically craptioned). As the transcript part of the workflow is usually 70–80% of the total captioning workflow, it makes good sense to provide more education that focuses on low hanging fruit such as these.

  • Google should publicly (or even privately) support a charity or not-for-profit game-changer that operates in the online, media accessibility space such as this one.

My thoughts: This would enable viral videos and popular content to be properly and accurately captioned more quickly and more often, particularly the most popular content and viral videos from each month/week, etc. It would also enable Google and YouTube to get around any potential legal precedents that they might attract by doing more to facilitate proper captioning themselves (and they’ve been very careful to always stick to the rule that it’s content creators that have the responsibility to create captioning and accessibility on their videos).

Finally, Glotzbach claims that:

Although I think having auto caption is better than nothing I fully admit and I fully recognise that it is by no means good enough yet.

This is the standard line from Google and YouTube product manager’s on automatic craptioning and I just have one question for them — have you personally watched a YouTube video (for the first time) with the sound off and the automatic craptioning on and managed to get through to the end of the video with a good understanding and appreciation of the video?

That’s the (very) simple challenge for them to prove that there’s some intrinsic value in automatic craptioning that equates to their “something is better than nothing” position.

That’s the way users who are Deaf or hard of hearing will have to use the automatic craptioning and if they can’t do this simple user testing, then the automatic craptioning tracks should remain “unpublished” until they’re properly corrected.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it has taken more than 5 years for YouTube and Google to even admit there is big problems with automatic craptioning and that means that most people who don’t rely on captioning have absolutely no idea that YouTube’s automatic craptioning* is useless unless it’s reviewed, edited and converted into accurate and good quality captioning.

That’s 5 years where they’ve been consistently spreading the wrong message and that’s only made the problem much harder to deal with now.

One more thing: will Google’s fan-based captioning and subtitling approach be the answer?

At this stage I’m very doubtful that crowdsourcing the solution to such an important accessibility issue is the best way (or only way) to solve this issue now.

It certainly does appear that YouTube are putting a lot of their eggs into this one basket though.

So I’ve decided to do my research and have recently done the captioning for a video of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube channel about sharpening knives (which I thought was a very apt choice) and I will post my thoughts on this experience very soon.

Stay tuned!