Outsourcing video accessibility – the 5 key questions

  • Author: Alex Varley
  • Date: 25 Aug 2015

Video content is more prevalent and the digital marketing gurus will tell you that good video equates to good search engine optimisation (SEO) rankings and more audience attention than just static content. Even better rankings can be attained through making the video accessible with captioning and audio description. In many cases it can also be a legal/policy requirement.

First consideration is the international standards and the rules around video accessibility. If you are following WCAG 2.0 Level A you need to provide captioning (Success Criterion 1.2.2) and you have the option of providing a full text alternative or audio description (Success Criterion 1.2.3). Moving up to Level AA (which Australian governments are generally following through the National Transition Strategy), you must provide audio description (Success Criterion 1.2.5) and captioning on any live media, such as a newscast (Success Criterion 1.2.4).

The second consideration is how do you deal with this in a practical way? Do you attempt in-house captioning and audio description or do you outsource to a professional supplier?

There are five key considerations when making this decision:

  1. Volume of work – are you dealing with a few minutes of video each week, or do you have hours of video material, including old material that needs to be made accessible?  If the regular volume is more than 20 minutes each week, you are probably better off looking for a negotiated contract to cover this. Similarly, you should not attempt to tackle many hours of backdated content as the time and resources to do this will overwhelm you.
  2. Length of video – DIY access is best-suited to short videos (under 10 minutes). As a rough guide, captioning takes about 10 to 15 times the video length, while description may take longer. 
  3. Complexity of material – if your video material is generally just a single person talking with no complex soundtrack or visual information, it is better suited to DIY access. Anything with multiple speakers, complex sound effects and a variety of visual elements is best handled by the experts. If you have live material, don’t think about trying to do this yourself. 
  4. Internal skills and resources – if you are running a major video production facility, it may be worth investing in training for staff to undertake captioning and audio description, particularly if you have volumes that make it worthwhile. If you are relying on some ‘spare time’ that other staff may have, except in low-volume, simple video situations, you are better off out-sourcing.
  5. Formats and technology – are you using video in a variety of presentation formats?  For example, a video embedded on a website that is also provided on a DVD or USB and then expected to be used on different media, such as Windows desktops, Android phones and tablets, and Apple iOS devices? The more complex the potential viewing environment, the more likely it will be that you should work with a professional access company for whom these issues are routine.

If you decide to outsource, you will achieve better value for money if you plan ahead and have a very clear idea of the volumes of work, the formats you are working with and any deadlines. There are a number of reputable suppliers in the market so you should be able to get comparative quotes and work with someone that best suits your needs.

A final word of warning – don’t rely on automatic access tools for video, such as the auto-captions on YouTube.  Whilst they are improving, they are free because they don’t come with any form of quality guarantee, and often the captions are simply incomprehensible.  Captions that are just wrong don’t provide access compliance and they wreck your SEO.