16 Comments

Summary:

Netflix’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, wrote an interesting blog post today about why his company doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions on its streaming content. Evidently, adding subtitles and closed captions is harder than it looks. English subtitles don’t need to be added to most […]

Netflix’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, wrote an interesting blog post today about why his company doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions on its streaming content.

Evidently, adding subtitles and closed captions is harder than it looks. English subtitles don’t need to be added to most English movies (they are “burned in” to the stream for foreign language movies), so the company needs to figure out a way to let individuals turn the words on or off. But as Hunt writes:

Encoding a separate stream for each title is not an option – it takes us about 500 processor-months to make one encode through the entire library, and for this we would have to re-encode four different formats. Duplicating the encoded streams is prohibitive in space too.

So we are working on optionally delivering the SAMI file (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange), or similar, to the client, and having it render the text and then overlay it on the video at playback time. Unfortunately, the tools for rendering SAMI files in Silverlight, or in CE (Consumer Electronics) devices, are weak or non-existent, and there is some technology development required.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill last year to ensure that people with disabilities have access to web video, but according to GovTrack.us it never became law. YouTube has had captioning capabilities for its videos since August of last year. Hunt predicts that subtitles and captions will be available for Netflix Silverlight users sometime in 2010, and then will be migrated to other TV connected devices by working with each manufacturer from then on.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. If Hulu could figure out how to do it, Netflix can. If they didn’t want to re-encode everything, they should have solved this earlier.

  2. Chris Albrecht Saturday, June 13, 2009

    I asked them about why YouTube could do it, they said they wouldn’t comment on other companies.

  3. Digital Media Bytes: NewTeeVee Edition Saturday, June 13, 2009

    [...] Why Netflix Doesn’t Offer Subtitles or Closed Captions Netflix’s Chief Product Officer, Neil Hunt, wrote an interesting blog post today about why his company doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions on its streaming content. Evidently, adding subtitles and closed captions is harder than it looks. Dave’s response: If Hulu could figure out how to do it, Netflix can. If they didn’t want to re-encode everything, they should have solved this earlier. [...]

  4. I use Netfix for T.V. but I really want to be on computer. :-(

  5. @Chris Albrecht: The reason YouTube can do it and they can’t is because Netflix uses Microsoft’s crappy Silverlight player and YouTube uses the flash video player. The Flash payer is much better in my opinion, but I am sure NF is getting some $$$ from Microsoft to use Silverlight, not to mention the fact that Reed Hastings sits on the Microsoft board of directors. So they are in bed with the inferior technology just like most of Microsoft’s products that are not Windows or Office, they are OK, everything else they make is crap. Flash Player has many ways to add CC information and apparently Silverlight doesnt. Not sure why they didn’t want to go with a mature technology for the streaming, but I am sure that they are in M$’s back pocket.

  6. There are a few companies that could provide the subtitles as SAMI files (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange) that Netflix could use (i.e: SubPLY.com, DotSub). SubPly provides subtitles as SAMI files to Silverlight as well. There is no reason today for any video publisher to re-encode different formats of the video. One would assume that other reasons, than technology, are keeping Netflix from providing close captions and subtitles.

  7. There are a few companies that could provide the subtitles as SAMI files (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange) that Netflix could use (i.e:SubPLY, DotSub). SubPly provides subtitles as SAMI files to Silverlight as well. There is no reason today for any video publisher to re-encode different formats of the video. One would assume that other reasons, than technology, are keeping Netflix from providing close captions and subtitles.

  8. Jonathan Campos Monday, June 15, 2009

    Problem is Silverlight, he even said it. The other companies mentioned that this works for all use Flash Player.

  9. The Chutry Experiment » Wednesday Links Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    [...] NewTeeVee, a discussion of the fact that Netflix doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions for their [...]

  10. I find it very frustrating to watch English mysteries, comedys, series, etc. without closed captioning. This is a foreign language especially if your hearing is not the best. If you watch a show on BBC or PBS CC is available so I don’t understand why Netflix doesn’tprovide it. Does Broadcast Video?

Comments have been disabled for this post