Netflix experiments with crowd-sourced captioning

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Netflix just launched a subtitling community project on the video captioning service Amara, formerly known as Universal Subtitles. The company is looking for a limited number of volunteers on the site, and apparently wants to try using crowd-sourced captioning with a “popular 80s cartoon and other classic TV programming,” according to information posted on the site.

A Netflix spokesperson told me that the company’s efforts on the site simply represent a test:

“Netflix is committed to accessibility and we have decided to test Amara to see if it could work for Netflix content. This is a small scale, early stage test. It is premature to discuss if we would actually use the titles resulting from this test or any future use of Amara.”

Netflix’s captioning community on Amara currently only features one video, which according to information provided on the site represents “an example of Netflix SDH (Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) Guidelines in action.”

Netflix is known as a company that is obsessed with testing. That being said, a service like Amara could represent a significant opportunity for Netflix. The company currently offers close to 50,000 movies and TV show episodes in the U.S., and has been expanding to countries where customers speak French, Spanish and Portuguese over the last few months. Netflix is slated to announce another international expansion soon, which could add another language to its roster.

Crowd-sourced captioning and subtitle translation could help to provide closed captions in all of these markets, and alleviate the pressure it’s been facing from deaf and hard-of-hearing advocates. Netflix was sued for not providing captions for all of its videos a year ago, and a judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed last month.

Amara originally launched as Universal Subtitles, and allows users to transcribe videos with a simple online editor. The site has been used by media organizations like Al Jazeera and the PBS NewsHour as well as the popular education site Khan Academy to crowd-source captioning and translation. I’ve been told by the Amara folks that its community has now subtitled more than 100,000 videos total.

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