Bad Captions are Polluting Video Libraries

In the history of our planet, littering is a relatively new problem. It was around the 1950s when manufacturers began producing a higher volume of litter-creating material, such as disposable products and packaging made with plastic. Much like the boom of manufacturers creating more disposable packaging, new video content is being pushed out to streaming platforms in incredible volumes every day.

Along with all this new video content, there are noticeable similarities between littering and a prevalent problem in our industry: inaccessible media – specifically poor captioning quality. Instead of it being food wrappers, water bottles, plastic bags, or cigarette butts, it’s misspellings, lack of punctuation, missing words, or the wrong reading rate (words-per-minute on the screen) that affects readability.

The motives behind littering and choosing poor-quality captioning are similar and it generally boils down to one of the following reasons: laziness or carelessness, lenient law enforcement, and/or presence of litter already in the area. Both are very selfish acts, allowing one person to take the easy route by just discarding their trash wherever they please, or in the case of captioning, choosing the quickest & cheapest option available to fulfill a request without any regard to the quality. When it comes to organizations enforcing the guidelines and standards, if their efforts are relaxed, it will encourage a lot of people to not follow them. And the presence of other content creators getting away with inaccessible media will, no doubt, encourage others to take the same route.

In The Big Hack’s survey of over 3,000 disabled viewers, four in five disabled people experience accessibility issues with video-on-demand services. “66% of users feel either frustrated, let down, excluded or upset by inaccessible entertainment.” In fact, “20% of disabled people have canceled a streaming service subscription because of accessibility issues.” It’s clear: inaccessible media is polluting video content libraries.

Viewers that do not utilize closed captions may not always think about how poor-quality captions affect the users that do, just like the consequences of littering on the community and animals that all share the Earth’s ecosystem are often overlooked. Education and awareness are important tools in reducing the problem. If we allow it to become commonplace, much like litter, bad captioning will wash away into the “ocean” of online video content and become permanent pollution our video “eco-system.”

So, what can we do about it before it’s too late? Much like with littering, we can start with community cleanups. Let the content creators know that you value captioning and would enjoy their content more if captions were present and accurately represent the program to all viewers. Find their websites and social media pages and contact them – make them aware. And if it’s on broadcast television, let the FCC know.

Clean communities have a better chance of attracting new business, residents, and tourists – the same will go for the online video community. Quality captioning is your choice and, for the sake of the video community, please evaluate the quality of work done by the captioning vendors that you’re considering and don’t always just go for the cheapest and quickest option. Help keep the video community clean.