A lot of people are watching videos on their phones, many of them without their headphones on. That poses a problem for video services and publishers who don’t want to alienate that audio-averse audience. It has also led to a rise in closed-captioned videos online, a trend that Snapchat has joined.
Snapchat has quietly added a caption button that Discover publishers can use to make their videos audio-optional. When a publisher has made the option available, people can click the button to toggle on subtitles in order to watch a video without sound. A Snapchat spokesperson confirmed that the company introduced the closed captions for long-form videos within Discover about a month ago but declined to say whether there are any plans to extend them to other videos within Snapchat, such as Live Stories or individuals’ stories.
The Snapchat-enabled captioning hasn’t yet been widely used by Discover publishers, but Marketing Land came across examples on the Discover channels of tech-and-culture news site Mashable and food-centric digital video network Tastemade.
“Our goal is to have every video that has a person on camera speaking have captioning,” said Tastemade’s head of production, Jay Holzer. “Typically maybe half of our videos on any given day require you to understand what a person is saying.”
Closed captioning has always been about making videos accessible to as many people as possible. Typically, that has meant hearing-impaired viewers or viewers who speak a different language, which are the two uses that YouTube has traditionally pointed to for its closed-captioning tool. But recently, it’s also meant mobile viewers.
Since smartphones allow people to watch videos just about anywhere, they often do. But sometimes those places don’t accommodate watching the videos with the sound on. For example, some portion of Tastemade’s Snapchat audience “may be in class,” Holzer said, nodding to the app’s popularity with college and high school students.
With more than half of YouTube’s and Facebook’s audiences on mobile and all of Snapchat’s on the smaller screen, making videos audio-optional is almost becoming a requirement for video publishers looking to keep their smartphone audience’s attention and avoid watering down the content of their mobile programming to the 21st-century version of a silent movie.
“Obviously with any platform, especially one that’s mobile-first, there’s some percentage of people who are never going to watch your stuff with the sound on,” Holzer said. “So I think having captions gives us the confidence to try more stuff with people on camera and things that would be more applicable to a traditional viewing environment because people can find a way to enjoy those, even if they are watching them on their mobile phone with the sound turned off.”
According to Facebook, 41 percent of videos are meaningless without sound, and people spend, on average, 12 percent more time watching videos when captions are added. That explained why last month, the social network started automatically captioning brands’ video ads.
Some publishers had previously recognized that smartphones and sound don’t always go together. Vox.com was one of the first publishers to insert captions into its Facebook videos after Facebook enabled the option in September 2014. And Vice has captioned some of the videos it distributes through its Snapchat Discover channel.
But Holzer said Snapchat’s TV-like captioning process makes things easier for media companies because the captions don’t have to be “manually hardcoded” into the video files. And the button that lets people toggle captions on or off doesn’t force viewers to stare at the captions if they’re watching a video with the sound on.
In order to feature the captions, a publisher must create the same subtitle file that TV shows create in order to comply with the FCC’s rules around closed captioning. Those files are uploaded when the publisher is uploading the videos and other content to appear in its Discover channel. That means Snapchat’s process for enabling closed captions would be easier for any TV networks or studios — *cough* Discover partners like CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Food Network, Fusion, MTV, National Geographic and Vice *cough* — looking to bring their content into its app.