Why Netflix, YouTube, other Video Streaming Sites Are Making Captions a Priority

Advocates for the deaf have a victory this week through their reach of a settlement with Netflix to put captions on all of its streaming videos by 2014.

Even though the site claims that 83 percent of its content is captioned, WebProNews reported it wasn’t enough for the National Association of the Deaf and the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, who filed a lawsuit forcing Netflix to get all of their video closed-captioned.

The recent lawsuit by deaf organizations aimed at Netflix comes at the same time other online streaming video companies like YouTube are becoming more serious with captioning. YouTube recently expanded captioning capabilities to include more than 300 languages in addition to its automated captioning program for certain languages. It has even set up a form to report videos that are required to offer captions under United States law but have failed to do so. Amazon Video has also added closed captioning services to its library recently in compliance with the federal law.

How did this develop? The federal government recently enacted the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which requires television shows and select programming previously shown on television to have captioning. While television news programs, sitcoms and dramas are required to have captioning, short clips are not required to have the same. Also absent from the regulation are user-generated YouTube videos and web series, but deaf advocates will likely ask for more captioning from them in the future.

Three years ago, YouTube tried to rectify the problem of caption-less videos by adding automated captioning, but as with all automated process, it’s been problematic – the captions do not always match the words spoken. Since then, the site has made it easier for content creators to make their own captions. Still, current regulations, a less-than-perfect automated captioning program and not enough content creators with closed-captioned video make the online video watching experience for deaf people less consistent.

Online video creators should take note from the Netflix and YouTube developments that captioning for all audiences is more important. Even though they are currently exempt from federal regulations at the moment, it’s important for them to stay ahead of the curve and find ways of making their content accessible for everyone.

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