Netflix opens crowd-sourcing of subtitles on a small scale

Netflix is extremely popular in the territories it supports. There are many positive reports about how it has improved someone's experience with television in the modern age, but there has always been one chink in the service's armor. That weakness is subtitling, or 'closed captioning' as it is also known. Some things don't come with subtitles, and subtitling can be useful in some situations - for example, identifying unusual words or seeing a sentence's construction. Netflix is beginning to acknowledge this for itself, by starting to crowd-source subtitles.

The service has launched a crowd-sourcing system via Amara, also known as Universal Subtitles, in an effort to improve subtitling of its shows. They want a small group of people from the community to sign up and provide subtitling. The emphasis is on keeping a small group to experiment with, for the idea might never come to fruition. Initially, Netflix wants to focus on older programming. An official statement on the decision follows:

“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.”

Some episodes, such as this still from the Lost pilot episode, do provide subtitling normally.

Netflix has committed itself to testing things regularly. The service rarely goes without putting something to the test, seeing if it'll work for them. In the United States they currently offer close to 50,000 movies and television shows, so the service is able to provide for a lot of different tastes. It's also available in the UK, and is likely feeling the benefit of being available on Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.

Amara is quite popular for what it offers. The service allows crowd-sourcing of captions, but it can also be used for other purposes as necessary. Media outlets including PBS and Al Jazeera have both used Amara in the past to provide subtitling on videos. Crowd-sourcing is only one thing that the service offers, but it can do more. If Netflix's test pays off and Amara becomes the provider for crowd-sourced subtitles then it could help provide more closed captioning in the future. As a fan of subtitles in some situations, I couldn't see this being a bad thing. Subtitles definitely have their benefits and assuming the Netflix community doesn't abuse them the service could become a model for others to be compared to.

Source: Gigaom
Application: Amara / Universal Subtitles
Lost pilot still: iGadgetview

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Netflix how about adding subtitles for FOREIGN movies for sony Blu Ray BDP-S780 that are missing? Not every device comes with the same UI you use on your website, seems like they are forgetting burn in subtitles heck we do not even get subtitles for regular movies nor 1080p and 5.1 surround. Also you know what would be great for Foreign movies? We get to choose dub or not with subtitles, I HATE DUBBED MOVIES!

I pay for cable. If Netflix wants me to pay them in addition to or instead of cable they'll add CC &/or subs -- if not that's their problem., not mine. I don't buy clothes that won't fit, or products that don't work -- it doesn't matter if the manufacturer or seller has a good excuse or not.

Along with most hearing impaired folks I don't/can't use Netflix now because most of their content has no CC or subs -- if they want us as future customers they'll add it -- if not, see ya. It's really a matter of whether they want the extra cash or not. [FWIW CC adds descriptive captions that subs usually do not, & CC usually is displayed against a black background, making it easier for some people to read.]

Lawsuits are, IMO anyway, an attempt to stop the backwards slide -- most on-line video is not captioned, despite the tools/methods being there since the earliest Real Video & Windows Media formats. HDMI has no provision for carrying or passing through captioning -- sort of a why bother sort of thing -- so players & cable boxes overlay it on the signal sent to the HDTV... that makes it more difficult, e.g. have to reboot the cable box, losing all guide programming to turn CC display on/off. That said, in all fairness this backwards slide started before HDTV was a reality in the U.S. -- most all DVDs had CC, but very few players passed it to the TV, & almost none of those players advertised it.

As far as this latest Netflix effort at or with Amara, IMHO it's a bit of PR -- Google/Yahoo & Adobe among others are working with voice recognition to add CC/subs, & if Netflix were serious they would too. Then again, if Netflix were serious about adding CC &/or subs they'd have never tossed it out from all the content they get, e.g. from whatever cable distributor [where it's embedded in the mpg2], or they'd pay to have content transcribed like the broadcast & cable channels do with their live or original programming -- trained transcriptionists use a special keyboard similar to a court reporter, so it's not nearly as time consuming as someone DIY. Personally I think it far more likely that Netflix figured it wasn't worth the bother when they designed/built their on-line streaming setup in the 1st place, when/where they re-encode content & store it prior to streaming.

As far as any CC/subtitle (C) issues, Netflix has been around a while -- it only recently become an issue with newer regs. If CC (C) is a "mess", it's because it is so recent that much hasn't been ironed out in the courts yet -- typically new laws/regs are poorly written, lawyers give their opinions on what they actually mean or say, people & companies make their claims, & the true legal meaning is established when the judge(s) rule. For consumers it's also Totally irrelevant... 2 things matter: what you get & how much you pay. No one questions how much the cable companies pay [if anything] for CC -- it's not our problem -- you pay the price for whatever services or not. Same with alternatives like Netflix -- it's their problem, just like the cost of their servers, not mine.

As my Wife is deaf and this is one of the biggest problems Netflix has - properly subtitled shows and movies - this should prove to be a wonderful thing in the long run. Netflix isn't completely to blame about the subtitle issue as many people believe, it's not just a situation where they 'flip a switch" and it just works, it's a money issue because the captions and subtitles in most shows and movies do not belong to the actual studio(s) that produce said shows and movies: they belong to a captioning service that holds the rights to the content and likes to charge companies like Netflix exorbitantly high - read: excessively overpriced - costs to be able to use the captions/subtitles they created for said shows and movies.

Netflix has attempted to work out deals with more of those providers over the years but they're still getting reamed over the pricing hence the sheer number of actual captioned/subtitled shows and movies you can find available on Netflix is still very small in comparison to the total content available.

This could be a major step in the right direction by allowing end-users the ability to create captions/subtitles for said shows and movies that could also be far more detailed in the long run. I think this is a good thing, as long as Netflix backs it and doesn't just toss the idea in the trash all too soon.

br0adband said,
As my Wife is deaf and this is one of the biggest problems Netflix has - properly subtitled shows and movies - this should prove to be a wonderful thing in the long run. Netflix isn't completely to blame about the subtitle issue as many people believe, it's not just a situation where they 'flip a switch" and it just works, it's a money issue because the captions and subtitles in most shows and movies do not belong to the actual studio(s) that produce said shows and movies: they belong to a captioning service that holds the rights to the content and likes to charge companies like Netflix exorbitantly high - read: excessively overpriced - costs to be able to use the captions/subtitles they created for said shows and movies.

Netflix has attempted to work out deals with more of those providers over the years but they're still getting reamed over the pricing hence the sheer number of actual captioned/subtitled shows and movies you can find available on Netflix is still very small in comparison to the total content available.

This could be a major step in the right direction by allowing end-users the ability to create captions/subtitles for said shows and movies that could also be far more detailed in the long run. I think this is a good thing, as long as Netflix backs it and doesn't just toss the idea in the trash all too soon.


If you need more movies with subtitles, stick to foreign movies. There are plenty of them on Netflix and all with subtitles of course. 90% of the movioes I watch are foreign. They are the best.

br0adband said,
As my Wife is deaf and this is one of the biggest problems Netflix has - properly subtitled shows and movies - this should prove to be a wonderful thing in the long run. Netflix isn't completely to blame about the subtitle issue as many people believe, it's not just a situation where they 'flip a switch" and it just works, it's a money issue because the captions and subtitles in most shows and movies do not belong to the actual studio(s) that produce said shows and movies: they belong to a captioning service that holds the rights to the content and likes to charge companies like Netflix exorbitantly high - read: excessively overpriced - costs to be able to use the captions/subtitles they created for said shows and movies.

Netflix has attempted to work out deals with more of those providers over the years but they're still getting reamed over the pricing hence the sheer number of actual captioned/subtitled shows and movies you can find available on Netflix is still very small in comparison to the total content available.

This could be a major step in the right direction by allowing end-users the ability to create captions/subtitles for said shows and movies that could also be far more detailed in the long run. I think this is a good thing, as long as Netflix backs it and doesn't just toss the idea in the trash all too soon.

+1

Subtitles also have additional benefits for hearing people that are overlooked. If more people were aware of the benefits and demanded them, it would help.


Even if you can hear properly and are watching a TV show or movie in your native tongue there are a LOT of words and expressions that our minds fill in when we don't fully hear them or understand them.

This is especially true when watching shows with an expanded vocabulary than we normally use everyday, and in shows that introduce new styles of speaking.

Watch something you have seen before and know; a medial program like 'House' for example with the subtitles, or a show that created a new speech style, like 'Buffy'. Notice how many words are different that your mind filled in and how much it changed the context.

Having on subtitles also sharpens written language skills, so spelling and other things improve. (Able to read faster, spell with more accuracy, etc.)


So everybody, start turning on subtitles at least once in a while, you will enjoy the experience.

This also increases the 'demand' for them, as services see the hit rates of subtitle usage grow on sites that are tracking them.


As the OP mentions, CC is a mess with regard to ownership and licensing issues for TV and Movies in the USA especially. Remember the additional comment or commercial at the end of a show with something like: "Closed Captioning brought to you by..." That is where part of the mess comes from.