Hulu agrees to provide closed captions for 100% of its videos

Posted by on / 0 Comments

Last week, the streaming video service Hulu announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with the National Association for the Deaf (NAD), and will provide closed captions for 100% of its English and Spanish videos by September 2017.

This is a big win for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and for everyone else who relies on captions to get the full context of what they’re watching. Hulu points out in a blog post on the topic that it was an “early adopter” of digital closed captions, but captions have still been a major pain point for Hulu viewers since the service started in 2008. Even today, many videos don’t have captions, and those that are available are often out of sync with the video content on some devices. This may be due in part to the fact that much of Hulu’s content makes its way to the service the day after it airs on television, and producing quality captions with a short turnaround requires considerable resources.

Unfortunately, it usually requires pressure from the outside for a business to make accessibility a top priority. Back in 2011, the NAD filed suit against Netflix after a lengthy back-and-forth about including captions with its streaming video content. That settlement agreement was reached in 2012, and Netflix added closed captioning to all its content in 2014. Today, 100% of the video content on Netflix includes captions on all devices, and deaf and hard-of-hearing people can enjoy a vast selection of videos that were previously inaccessible.

The NAD also settled a similar lawsuit with Amazon in 2015, with Amazon agreeing to provide closed captioning for all of its content in 2017 as well.

The fact that Hulu has finally reached its own settlement with the NAD is an exciting development, because it will open up a huge variety of next-day and archival content on multiple devices, to viewers that weren’t able to fully enjoy it before. Under the terms of the agreement, Hulu will provide captions that are consistent with the FCC standards for completeness, accuracy, synchronicity, and placement – so we assume that the sync issues on certain devices will finally be resolved over the next year as well. In the meantime, Hulu will also be making changes to its search function, making it easier for viewers to see which videos currently include captions.

“Captioning is another type of control consumers can—rightfully— expect and enjoy,” said Arlene Mayerson, the attorney representing NAD, in a statement. “Hulu’s actions and commitment to making its media accessible to deaf and hard of hearing subscribers demonstrates that it is possible to fully integrate the deaf and hard of hearing community into the online entertainment marketplace.”

Hulu’s Head of Experience, Senior Vice President Ben Smith, had this to say:

“Our number one commitment at Hulu is to create a seamless, easy-to-access viewing experience for all subscribers and this new agreement helps us reach our goal.

We are proud to work with the National Association for the Deaf to continue building a world-class viewing experience that is inclusive for all those who want to watch the best of television when, where and how they want it.”

The process of creating good quality captions for digital content can be long, labor-intensive, and often daunting, but the most important steps are seldom easy. At Caption Colorado the issue of making digital media more accessible has been close to our hearts for many years, so it’s very exciting to finally witness this sea change taking place.