Creating Closed Captions in YouTube

by | Feb 2, 2015

Creating closed captions for event videos is often overlooked or dismissed as too costly. But could YouTube’s tools make it easier for event videos to become more accessible and discoverable?

In our recent post about metadata for event materials, we mentioned the benefits of adding your own closed captions to YouTube videos to help improve both the accessibility and discoverability of your event videos.

Creating video closed captions is often seen as a laborious, time-consuming task, and as a result is often overlooked when producing conference videos. Unless each of your speakers can provide you with a complete transcript, listening back through hours of presentations to create the closed captions is simply not economically viable to most event organisers.

I regret that this blog post is not going to reveal a quick fix to this situation. However, we have recently seen YouTube adding more features to make closed captioning easier. In this post, we give a quick overview of YouTube’s current caption support tools and how they could help you to caption video beyond YouTube.

Creating Closed Captions in YouTube


You may have seen that YouTube creates automatic closed captions (of variable accuracy) using their speech-to-text software. These automatic closed captions can be a really useful shortcut when creating your own (hopefully more accurate!) captions.

Here’s how:

1. Login to your YouTube channel, go to the Video Manager and select the video you want to caption.
2. Above the video you will see a range of options, including “Subtitles and CC”. Click this.
3. You will be asked to specify what language is used throughout the majority of your video.
4. Once you have specified a language, you should see the automatic captions appear as caption tack in the list to the right of your video. Select this, then choose “Edit” from the options.
5. You can now edit a copy of the automatic caption track that YouTube’s speech-to-text facility has produced.

This is what you should see:



Depending on the speed and accent of your speaker, the automatic caption track may vary in accuracy. Sometimes you may only need to do a little bit of tweaking, whilst other times you will need to do major re-writes to reflect what is actually being said.

To correct the text, select the caption you wish to edit on the right and just start typing. The video will pause whilst you are typing, and resume playing when you stop, so you can listen and check the next section.

The benefit of editing the automatically generated captions is that the caption file already includes all the timing points. This is one of the major tasks when creating a caption file. If you want to adjust any of the timings, you can extend and contract each segment using the tool underneath the video, which puts grab handles around each section of caption text and allows you to shorten or lengthen the amount of time that text remains on screen to synchronise it with the speaker.





6. Once you have corrected the file, click “publish” to make this caption file available to your viewers straight away.
7. In the list of available caption files, you can unpublish the “English – automatic” version, so only your customised caption file is available to viewers when they click to turn on the captions.
8. If your event has an international audience, export your caption file and send this for translation by a native speaker, then upload the new file directly to offer a choice of languages.


This method will still take time. The only way you can add captions quickly is to upload a transcript file, but most good conference speakers don’t read from a script, so this won’t help with live event videos. At a rough estimate, I would double the video length to calculate the amount of time it will take to perfect the captions for a standard lecture, although if the speech-to-text feature likes your speaker’s delivery, it could take as little as 1.5 x the length of the video to caption. If you are trying to add captions to a more dynamic session – such as a debate – it could take longer.


Beyond YouTube

What if you don’t want to host your video on YouTube?

YouTube may not be the best place for your conference video, or it may be one of several places you want to position your content to get maximum content.

Luckily, YouTube’s closed captioning tools can still help you save time.

YouTube allows you to export your caption file as a .sbv file for use in other applications. This can be easily converted to a .srt file, if this is more useful to you.

This means, for instance, that you could use an open source, cross platform tool like Handbrake to add the subtitle file to your video’s metadata. This will mean that your DVD player or video player software will give you the choice to display your caption file. You can now use the video offline, with the captions.

In effect, you could upload your video to YouTube as a private video, create and export a caption file, then remove your video from YouTube and use it wherever you like. You are not bound to using YouTube as your host. For example, Vimeo allows you to upload an .srt file to caption your video. It doesn’t matter how that file was created!


Final Thoughts

Closed captioning is often viewed as one of those expensive accessibility features that can’t be justified on a tight budget. However, video captions have much wider benefits than aiding the hearing-impaired (which should be an important enough goal in and of itself!). Video captions can be used by a much wider audience of viewers, including those who read English better than they understand it when spoken, those who benefit from the auto-translate feature, and those who simply can’t turn the volume up without disturbing others (such as those watching in a work environment).

In addition to the accessibility benefits, a customised caption file can contribute to your video’s SEO, as search engine crawlers can access this text and use it to rank your video content. The auto-generated closed captions are not yet accurate enough for this feature to be used, so it is worth spending the time creating a caption file to improve the discoverability of your event video.

What holds you back from captioning your event videos?

Have you discovered any other time-saving tricks for creating captions?

Please leave a comment below to share.


Need Help?

If you would like help filming a conference, or any assistance with creating closed captions for your conference videos, please contact [email protected] to discuss your needs and get a quote.

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