Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How Might Hulu Be Showing Its Captions?

How is Hulu able to show closed captions when Netflix does not? That is the $60 million dollar question.

A bit of research online by Jamie and me yielded some clues. First, according to an April 2008 article in Entertainment Close-Up, Hulu is using Signiant Software. Signiant makes digital media distribution management solutions. Google Hulu and Signiant and more articles will turn up.

Poking around Signiant's website led to a blog, Digital Media Galaxy. Searching that blog on "captioning" led to one result, Rhozet Carbon Coder/Signiant Integration Video. That blog post mentions closed captioning extraction capabilities. As best as I understand it, Signiant's software integrates with software from Rhozet called Carbon Coder and through this integration, is able to extract closed captions. A check of the Rhozet website found that the Carbon Coder product is indeed able to extract closed captions.

Not only that, an examination of the Carbon Coder product's additional functions page revealed that under Advanced Operations, Carbon Coder can do subtitle/CC imprint, and line 21/CC conversion.

Last but not least, on Signiant's website there is a page that explains more about Rhozet's Carbon Coder. The information there is so important that I'm quoting it here:

"Traditional broadcast companies continue to grow their content business with alternate media delivery through the web, mobile or Video on Demand (VOD). However, one size does not fit all. They are challenged with the multiple CODECs and containers required to support these delivery mechanisms. Media is often captured in one format; edited in another; delivered live in a 3rd format; stored in a yet another format and so on. With the dramatic increase in the number of formats along with shorter service level agreements and Business To Business (B2B) relationships spanning the globe, content production is becoming more challenging. Rhozet's Carbon Coder is an industry leading transcoder which can simultaneously support all the major formats required in today's media environment."

Based on all this information, I have developed a theory about how Hulu is able to show closed captions. I theorize that Hulu is using the Signiant Software integration with Rhozet's Carbon Coder software to extract the closed captions from DVDs and overlay it onto the streamed media. One of the arguments that we have been given for not having captions on streamed media is that the formats are different between DVDs and digital media; but according to the Signiant page on Rhozet, Rhozet can handle ALL formats.


Dana said...

Through email correspondence with Hulu, my understanding is that they usually get the caption files from the network (but not always), and then the captions need to be manually formatted. Hulu doesn't yet use automatic conversion of caption files. That's one reason why Hulu's captions/subtitles don't provide any information about who is speaking; the placement information isn't preserved.

If you know of a way that Hulu can automatically convert the caption files, however, let them know! (smile)

Anonymous said...

i stumbled across your blog and though i might just shed a bit of light...caption support on the web uses very different technologies than traditional broadcast TV (line 21/eia 608 for sd, line 9/VANC/eia 708 for hd.

hulu and adobe have a very close relationship and adobe does have a captioning solution for those (hulu) who have decided on using this format for web video publishing

here is a bit of information as to how captioning can work in the flash video world:

w3c is the www consortium for all things interweb...this is only one way to caption and is dependant on the codec and player of choice - windows media does it another way and silverlight (next gen windows media) potentially even another, all of these various web video technologies keep life interested while hopefully enabling people like yourself to still take advantage of compelling content :)

rhozet is a transcoding solution that does have the ability to transcode into flash, but i am quite certain they do not have a capitoning solution for flash as this tends to be a manual, post (as mentioned above) process...Signiant provides transport technologies (high speed data movement) and is not involved in the video/captioning aspect of any digital media workflow - unless they are venturing into an entirely different type of business (highly doubtful)

hope this clears things up a bit for ya :)


Jamie Berke said...

Unfortunately, it looks like we are incorrect about the use of software. I just got this response from's help desk:

We ask all our content providers for caption files. Some have them available,
others do not or are still working on it. Then we try to read the caption files as
there are many formats.

Then, if we can read the file, we have someone sit and watch the video and sync
the captions to the video as timings are often off because broadcast timing may
differ from the online video file timing for a variety of reasons.

We've been able to increase our coverage a lot just by sheer effort. We still have
room to improve our coverage through that means. There will be some portion that
will require other solutions, and we'll continue to investigate.

Captions are a priority for us, and we'll continue to push to make them more of a
standard for online video.

moebius said...

Ok, but this still doesn't explain why Netflix doesn't caption their online videos. Hmm?

Dana said...

moebius, manual labor is involved for generating captions for every single video, so that's a time-intensive and expensive process.

My guess is that Hulu has far, far less content than NetFlix does. I would guess that Hulu is providing under 25 hours of captioning a week, primarily for new television episodes. (The Recently Updated page at doesn't change all that rapidly when filtered by closed captioning.) I've never been a NetFlix customer, but I imagine it probably has thousands of streaming videos.

However, I have to wonder why NetFlix provided streaming video at all; was this significantly cheaper than the postage and handling of the DVDs? Did they fail to do a cost analysis of how much money they'd save on postage and handling if they did online captioning, ending up with potentially thousands of deaf and hard of hearing customers for each captioned streaming video?

poweron said...

Only thing I do understand that is free and get paid by advertisement while Netflix don't, make customer pay and watch whole thing without being hassel.

Yet, the CEO of Netflix make mistake by spoke about none site of stream have CC. OH boy!

litoblog said...

Hi Robert and Jamie,

I am Tony Lapolito - VP of Marketing and Product Management at Signiant. While I cannot disclose without permission how a particular company is using our product - I can tell you that Signiant is heavily involved in languaging and cc'ing. Many of our customers are doing things like processing audio tracks and CC files using a combination of solutions including Rhozet as you highlighted in this blog post:

We can automate these process and greatly reduce the cost associated with delivering CC'ing in many languages. Let me know if you have questions.

Good detective work.