February 28, 2018
Twice in the past two weeks I’ve been asked about closed captioning options for churches who live stream their worship services. The short answer is that options are available, but costs or the risk of inappropriate automated transcripts may be prevent you from implementing any of these solutions.
First off, a quick background on my experience with closed captioning: I worked at a TV station in Birmingham, Alabama, for nearly 20 years before starting my own internet consulting business in 2013. The FCC requires TV stations to close caption their content, regardless of whether it’s live or pre-recorded. As a result, TV stations spend thousands of dollars each year to hire people to transcribe breaking news and severe weather coverage. I was never one of those transcribers, but I was involved in the management process to make sure that happened.
In 2009, my congregation started closed captioning our weekly TV show. We did this with volunteers who transcribed the sermons, then used CaptionMaker from cpcweb.com to embed the closed captioning file in our video, which was then delivered to one of the local TV stations. This worked well, but the CC software cost us nearly $7,000 to purchase – a fee some church congregations may not be able to afford.
Thankfully, technology has improved since then, and the options for captioning – both live and on-demand, are more plentiful and more affordable. However, I have yet to find an automated solution that transcribes spoken English perfectly, so if you choose to use one of these options, please understand that your words may be translated into words you may not want associated with your congregation.
Two days ago, YouTube announced plans to start providing automatic English captioning to live streaming video, for free. The live closed captioning is built on the same engine YouTube (which is owned by Google) has used the past nine years to automatically caption videos you upload:
When professionally provided captions aren’t available, our new live automatic captions provide creators a quick and inexpensive way to make live streams accessible to more people. With our live automatic speech recognition (LASR) technology, you’ll get captions with error rates and latency approaching industry standards. We’ll roll this out in the coming weeks, and will continue to improve accuracy and latency of automatic captions.
This new live, automated captioning service is an addition to the closed captioning service YouTube already offers live streamers using live transcribers and specialized software. A detailed list of supported software can be found here. Using one of these software solutions will give you complete control over the captions, but at a premium cost – you’ll have to buy the software and pay for someone to accurately transcribe your audio in real-time.
Speaking of live transcribers, one of the four closed captioning options YouTube already supports is cloud captioning from a company called Stream Text. I have not (yet) used their service, but from looking at their website, they offer live transcription at $0.09 per minute or less, depending on how much you use them. Their live transcript can automatically feed to your YouTube account as described in their help article here.
Facebook offers closed captioning opportunities similar to the ones offered by YouTube – the solutions are not yet automated like the one YouTube is rolling out, but you can use software and/or CC services to insert closed captions into your live stream.
I experimented with this free, automated captioning service a few months ago, and found it to do a fairly good job at transcribing live audio on the fly using Google Translate as its backbone. It easily interfaces with vMix, the live streaming software I use in almost all of my broadcasts and the one I recommend for churches who want to enhance the broadcast of their worship services online.
Having said that, I should warn you – automated transcripts are not perfect. I do not (yet) use this service in the broadcast of our worship services because the automated transcripts sometimes include words that I do not want associated with our church or its members. Until I am confident that the transcript will not provide certain words, I will not use it.
One other automated solution I will look at over the coming months is EZ Live Caption, mainly because of its promised ability to integrate with vMix. It’s a very new software, so I will likely wait for a few months to see how the product develops as it rolls out.
If you’re looking for captioning for something not live, I would recommend Rev.com – they have a really good reputation among podcasters who want transcripts of interviews to use in their blogs turned around very quickly.
When it comes to closed captioning live streaming video online, you get what you pay for. If closed captioning is a necessity for you, I suggest being ready to pay.
Dennis Washington is the founder of Pro Church Video, a social video outreach ministry for churches offering live online Q&A sessions, weekly video announcements, and custom graphics. Visit ProChurchVideo.com to learn more about these services and how he can help your congregation reach more people in your community.