Facebook to auto-caption video ads: great! But, really?

Access iQ published “Video advertisements on Facebook to be auto-captioned” lately, and the title caught me. Auto-captioning is a technical challenge that could change lives of millions of people barred from the video side of the Web. 

The topic of the article is broader, though. Facebook also deals with another issue, which relates to accessibility as well: auto-playing videos. You may find them annoying; but to some people they are extremely intrusive. They can prevent them from doing whatever they are trying to do, either by monopolizing their attention, or by interfering with their vocal output or control system. Auto-playing videos are now handled differently: they are muted by default, captioned, and the audio can be turned on by user action, should she want to hear it.

The way the auto-playing, intrusive ads are handled seems pretty sensible, and congrats to Facebook for addressing the issue.

What’s technically interesting is that Facebook also provides a service that automatically captions the videos fed by advertisers. The idea is not new, but investment from big names in the industry in these technologies is necessarily good news.

Now I’m wondering: what prevented the advertisers from providing subtitles with every video ads they push on line? With a staggering 12% of increased views, it seems worthwhile to spend a few dollars on accurate and controlled subtitles for their ads. I have seen commercial videos automatically captioned by Youtube, that were just hilarious – but devastating from a business point of view. Whereas it would have taken 10 minutes to caption them manually. Which is of course a tiny fraction of the cost of the video production itself, let alone the cost of advertising space.

That said, I hope the outcomes of this effort will benefit to all non-profit or user-provided videos as well. I once calculated that at $10/hour (which is very optimistic, and not doable yet, as far as I know), captioning all new videos on Youtube would cost $1.5 billion per year… So there’s clearly something to do here!

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