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Subtitling for social media

Telestream's Giovanni Galvez looks at 'bringing order to chaos'

Social media video hosting and sharing provides a way for content producers, broadcasters and even tech-savvy individuals to expand their viewership instantly via websites and mobile apps.

The goal to reach as many people as possible with a video is attainable not only for the average person with a mobile phone camera but also for TV broadcasters and companies that produce professional video content. Just because anyone with an internet-enabled device can find a video on social media doesn’t mean that everyone has access to it.

As the demographic of viewership expands, we reach people who require subtitles to watch a video on their social media feed. Subtitles delivered with video become essential as we reach a larger audience locally and abroad including foreign language viewers.

No unified way to deliver captions and subtitles to social media
If you have a following in social media, chances are that you have several different accounts across many social media networks. Perhaps, you have a Vlog in YouTube, a Twitter handle, an Instagram hashtag, and an occasional Facebook live feed. If you are a video content producer you may want to share your video in all your social media accounts. When subtitles become a requirement for delivery, the simple one click and publish workflow becomes an adventure through the jungle of various and non-existent support for captioning and subtitling for each social media outlet.

We discover that many social media sites supports something called a side car subtitle file. For example, Facebook has support for SRT files (a common subtitle format), while YouTube may give users more advanced choices including a way to create your own subtitles. Other sites, such as Twitter don’t provide the ability to upload subtitles at all.

If you are a news outlet or TV production studio, you have high volume of video that needs to be published to social media every day. Captioning and subtitling are already part of the typical workflow to get content on live TV. However, publishing short form promos to various social media sites with subtitles can introduce many new manual steps that slow down productivity and turnaround time.

Add the various and non-standardised support for subtitles in social media and we may be spending time researching knowledge base articles and blogs to understand how it all works. One way that content producers are publishing subtitles is via burn-in or open subtitles. These are rendered as part of the image and cannot be turned off by the viewer. This sacrifices functionality for compatibility. Features such as interactive scripts, SEO optimisation, auto-translation, and user selectable font parameters are out with burn-in subtitles. The key thing to consider is that unlike TV captions and subtitles, social media outlets have not standardised a single way to accept a subtitle file.

How are people currently doing it?
Although some social media sites offer API publishing options for subtitling and captions, most people manually upload subtitles to a single social Media site and then share that link in as many accounts as possible. We know that a YouTube account supports the greatest number of subtitle formats, so that may be the ‘go to’ video hosting site for people that require subtitles. YouTube will even automatically translate any subtitle document uploaded to the video via the viewers settings control. However, in many cases organisations and users may just publish video to the social media site that has the most popularity or followers.

In the last four years or so we have seen a surge in the volume of videos published by political campaigns and marketing departments to help promote ideas, products, upcoming events, and new film and TV programming. Interestingly, subtitling on top of the video has shown to be an effective way for their intended audience to pause and watch a short clip as they scroll through their Facebook feed on their mobile device. The actual video content doesn’t have to be necessarily visually entertaining, the key thing is that audio playback is not practical when viewing social media on mobile devices. So, in the case of a single talking head presenter or interview, the subtitles must make the impact to encourage viewers to keep watching.

Also, we have seen the popularity of using animated gif’s as an entertaining way to share video on social media. Something about the video looping and the gif button sparks curiosity while also being less of a commitment than watching a 2 or 3-minute video. Subtitles play a big role in the success of animated gifs. This is because animated gifs have no audio. So, if there is a three or four second shot of an actor delivering a key line in a film, the animated gif must include a subtitle burn that triggers at just the right time. Animated gifs with subtitles are more likely to be shared by others in social media as they are short and provide a key entertaining message.

Automation and repurposing of broadcast captions
An enterprise-scale video production facility has many hours of video content to package and deliver daily. They have production ready operations and workflows that are constantly in use. Any changes to their existing workflow can cause a major hit to productivity. In addition, high volume of video content also means a strong need to automate and avoid time consuming manual processes.

New elements such as subtitling and closed captioning must fit into what is being done now. It should be scalable to make expansion possible. Therefore, it is key when introducing captioning / subtitling to social media to a production ready workflow to simply repurpose the closed captioning / subtitling that is already being used for broadcast TV delivery. So, using Telestream Vantage, for example, this can be a layer of automation that can be added as a downstream process to fit within the established production schedule.

In this environment, manual processes are not possible because of time constraints. If a subtitling solution is introduced that adds a day or two to the existing process, this becomes unworkable. It is unlikely that post-production would be pushed to an even tighter schedule to accommodate subtitling. Therefore, the automation to add subtitling to social media can be added without a schedule change. In some cases, this means to closed caption or subtitle a live video feed.

Consistency and automation must be production ready with audio/video/subtitling within the same workflow. Manual steps in a high paced high volume environment can also introduce errors and inconsistencies. Asking a captioning or subtitling department to deliver different files for each social media platform is asking for trouble and making asset management a traffic jam. The deliverables must be converted and delivered to social media automatically using software tools that have been tested to deliver properly to social media.

Speech to text can be leveraged to speed up the authoring but must be manually reviewed for accuracy. In some cases, speech-to-text auto transcription can be leveraged to provide a good rough transcript of a pre-recorded video. This is a huge time saver when there is no transcript or time to manually apply captioning and subtitling. Also, it provides timing as well as text.

When performing QA on the video project, the text on screen has a time stamp that makes fine tuning simple. With the leverage of cloud computing automatic speech recognition results can be returned in faster than real time. So, video editors and post-production facilities can take advantage of cloud based speech-to-text to deliver to social media.

API delivery to social media should be used and workflow must be defined to make all subtitle deliveries compatible with the downstream social media site. The main social media sites have API’s that also support captioning and subtitling delivery. Automation software can add these calls to their existing delivery mechanism.

By Giovanni Galvez, captionista and product manager at Telestream