YouTube takes automatic captioning international

YouTube (s GOOG) rolled out automatic captioning for Japanese videos, utilizing the same kind of speech recognition technology that’s also used to auto-caption videos in English. The video sharing site announced the launch of the feature late last week on its Japanese blog, and a YouTube spokesperson confirmed Tuesday via email that this is the first time automatic captioning is available in a language other than English. “We look forward to continuing to expand this feature to additional languages over time,” he added.

Users can now select automatic captioning for Japanese videos by clicking on the CC button and then selecting Transcribe audio:


YouTube rolled out auto-captioning for English-language videos in late 2009. The site expanded the feature to all of its English-language videos in March 2010.

Captions for online video recently came into the spotlight when disability advocates sued Netflix (s NFLX) and CNN (s TWX) for failing to provide subtitles for each and every video the companies are serving up online. YouTube’s effort to bring auto-captioning to Japan has been hailed by the country’s Federation of the Deaf, but Google Technical Program Manager for Accessibility Engineering Naomi Black cautioned on Monday that publishers should merely understand the auto-captioning provided by the site as a starting point. On Google+, she explained:

As someone who posts content to YouTube, I wouldn’t rely on auto-captions without review, but it’s a great starting place for making accurate captions, since the video owner can download and edit the captions. And as a viewer, if the video owner hasn’t provided any captions, it does give you some insight into what the video is about.

There’s also another big benefit for publishers and Google alike in expanding automatic captioning: Captions make videos searchable, expanding the discoverability of videos both on YouTube itself as well as via Google. This could help to add more views and improve monetization of video assets.