Obama en Español: PBS brings SOTU to the world


Only hours after President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, it was already available online with subtitles in seven different languages, including Japanese, Arabic and French. Additional translation efforts for Spanish, German and Korean versions of the speech are currently underway. The multi-lingual captions are the result of a partnership between PBS Newshour, Mozilla and Universal Subtitles, which collectively received $400,000 in funding from the public broadcaster a few days ago.

Aside from making the speech available in other countries, the captioning is also meant to make it more accessible to viewers within the United States that primarily speak a different language, as well hard-of-hearing viewers. The Newshour team is working with professional translators on some of the subtitles, while others are collectively done by volunteers through Universal Subtitles’ online tools.

Universal Subtitles was founded in early 2010 by the Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF), an open-source media initiative that’s also known for its Miro video player. PCF co-founder Nicholas Reville told me in an email that the Universal community has subtitled 56,000 videos since it launched its web-based captioning tools in August of 2010.

The site has gotten help from 22,000 volunteers transcribing videos and translating subtitles, but is now looking to make its technology available to commercial clients as well. “The launch of the Newshour team represents the full rollout of our enterprise services for companies and organizations,” he wrote via email, explaining that the enterprise edition of Universal Subtitles uses both paid staff and volunteers as well as integrates paid transcription and translation services. He added:

“It’s amazing how many companies are getting in touch with us about managing their subtitles and setting up volunteer teams. I think the value of video is finally being recognized by a lot of companies and they want to make it searchable and accessible for more viewers.”

Some of the money invested by PBS will also be used to extend online videos with additional information, much like the White House did with its enhanced SOTU webcast Tuesday night. PBS Newshour will use Mozilla’s Popcorn player to add news and Twitter feeds as well as viewer-submitted commentary to videos of this year’s election cycle.

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