How YouTube Contributed to the Evolution of Closed Captions

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How YouTube Contributed to the Evolution of Closed Captions

How YouTube Contributed to the Evolution of Closed Captions

Story of YouTube Closed Captions

YouTube has significantly contributed to the evolution of closed captions in the digital space. Their journey from manual captioning to advanced machine learning-powered automation marks a pivotal shift. Automated closed captions, driven by AI and machine learning, ensure a more accessible and inclusive user experience.


YouTube’s implementation of automated closed captions has dramatically improved accuracy and scalability. Real-time captioning during live broadcasts and premieres further enhances accessibility. The integration of contextual understanding, multilingual support, and the continuous refinement of the technology underscore YouTube’s commitment to inclusivity. Additionally, the platform’s efforts have set high standards for online accessibility, benefiting both creators and consumers in all aspects.


By embracing technology and fostering community contributions, YouTube has made its vast library of content accessible to a global audience while continually striving for improvement. This contribution not only benefits those with hearing impairments but also sets an example for the digital world’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.

Manual Captioning in the Early Days

In the early days of YouTube, accessibility features like closed captions were mostly an afterthought. Creators who wanted to provide captions for their videos had to do so manually. This meant typing out all the spoken dialogue, sound effects, and any relevant information on their own. While this was a noble effort, it had several significant drawbacks:


 Manually creating captions was a time-consuming process, often requiring creators to transcribe their entire video, which was not sustainable for many content creators.


The quality of captions varied greatly, as it depended on the creator’s typing skills and their commitment to providing accessibility features.

Limited Availability

Many videos remained inaccessible because not all creators had the time, resources, or motivation to provide captions.

As YouTube continued to grow, it became evident that a more scalable and accurate solution was necessary to ensure that all users, including those with hearing impairments, could fully enjoy the vast array of content on the platform.

Introduction of Community Contributions

In response to the challenges posed by manual captioning, YouTube introduced a feature that allowed the community to contribute captions and subtitles. This marked an important step towards improving the accessibility of videos on the platform. It empowered users to help make YouTube a more inclusive space. This community-driven approach had several advantages


The community contributions led to a significant increase in the availability of captions for various videos, including those from non-English-speaking regions.


This approach allowed for captions to be available in a wide range of languages, making YouTube content more globally accessible.


However, there were also challenges with this approach, as the accuracy and credibility we always questionable. While community contributions were a significant improvement, they didn’t always guarantee high-quality or accurate captions, as it depended on the willingness and capabilities of volunteers.


The contributions were not instantly available. The captions often lagged behind the video’s release, as they relied on volunteer contributions.


YouTube recognized that it needed a more robust and automated system to ensure the consistent availability of high-quality captions for all its content.

Dropping Automated Speech Recognition (ASR)

To tackle the issues related to manual and community-generated captions, YouTube turned to technology. The platform introduced Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. ASR allowed YouTube to automatically generate captions for videos, addressing some of the previous challenges like the instant availability of the captions without the need for human intervention.

However, ASR had its own set of limitations as well.

  • ASR technology often struggled with understanding various accents, specialized terminology, and context, resulting in less accurate captions.


  • ASR-generated captions sometimes produced awkward or inaccurate transcriptions, leading to a less-than-ideal user experience.


  • ASR is highly limited in terms of diversification, English is the most developed language model in ASR technology available all over the world subsiding other languages’ usage.

Recognizing the need for more precise and reliable captions, YouTube embarked on the next phase of its journey.

Machine Learning-Powered Automation

The breakthrough came when YouTube integrated advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies into its captioning process. These technologies marked a substantial leap forward in the platform’s quest to provide accurate, reliable, and accessible captions. Here’s how machine learning and AI played a pivotal role:

Speech Recognition

Machine learning algorithms could analyze the audio in videos and convert spoken words into text, with significantly improved accuracy compared to earlier ASR systems.

Context Understanding

AI went beyond basic speech recognition. It considered accents, slang, and specialized terminology to provide more precise captions, regardless of the content’s complexity.

Real-Time Processing

YouTube’s machine learning models began working in real-time, ensuring captions were generated as quickly as possible, even during live broadcasts.

Continuous Improvement

The system continuously learns and evolves. As more content was uploaded, the machine learning models learned from their mistakes and refined their accuracy.

This advanced technology not only made captions more accurate but also allowed for the automatic translation of captions into multiple languages, further expanding the global reach and accessibility of YouTube’s content.

Enabling Closed Captions on the YouTube Website

Step 1 – Open YouTube 

Step 2 – Select a Video 

Step 3 – Click the “CC” Button (Beneath the video player, you’ll see a “CC” button. Click on it. If the button is grayed out, it means the video doesn’t have closed captions available)

Step 4 – Choose Your Preferred Language (A menu will pop up with a list of available languages. Click on your preferred language to enable captions for that video)

Step 5 – Customize Captions if needed (After enabling captions, you can click the “Settings” (gear) icon within the “CC” menu to adjust the caption style and appearance to your liking)

Enabling Closed Captions on the YouTube Mobile App

Step 1 – Open the YouTube App 

Step 2 – Select a Video

Step 3 – Tap the Video Player

Step 4 – Tap the “CC” Button 

Step 5 – Choose Your Preferred Language

Keyboard Shortcuts (On YouTube Website)

If you prefer using keyboard shortcuts, you can enable captions quickly

Toggle Captions On/Off            –  Press “C” to enable or disable captions.

Increase Caption Font Size     –  Press the “+” key.

Decrease Caption Font Size    –  Press the “-” key.

 Reset Caption Font Size          –    Press “0” (zero).

Fast Forward/Rewind Video with Captions – Use the “,” (comma) key to rewind and the “.” (period) key to fast forward.

The Ongoing Journey

The evolution of YouTube’s closed captions is an ongoing journey. The platform is committed to making its content accessible to a wide and diverse audience. With plans to expand the range of languages supported, offer more customization options for captions, and improve the accuracy of automated captions, YouTube’s closed captioning system is set to continue its transformative path.


As YouTube continues to invest in improving its automated closed captions, it paves the way for other platforms to follow suit and set higher accessibility standards in the digital world. To beat the accuracy problems encountered with the ASR technology, CaptioningStar offers an amalgamated solution of both AI-generated captions and a complete quality check for 99% accurate output. This is a proven solution suggested by thousands of accessibility experts and enthusiasts.


CaptioningStar offers an exclusive set of holistic packages with a blend of AI and Human Touch like 

AI Captioning, AI Subtitling, AI Dubbing, AI Voice Over, AI Transcription and AI Translation.