Rob CollingLaunched earlier this year, internetsubtitling.com is a startup that, as the name suggests, provides captions and subtitles for online video.

The captions and subtitles, as shown in this example,
provide a potentially useful way to make online video more accessible.
I’ve been talking to founder Rob Colling about the company and
concept…

When and why did you launch InternetSubtitling?

I have been a subtitler for ten years with a number of international companies. I ran an office in Newcastle for seven years doing subtitling for DVDs for companies like Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony, Universal and Paramount.

It was starting to annoy me that none were looking at working on subtitles for the internet, and that many people were missing out because no-one was doing captioning for online video. It’s an issue I tried to raise with my superiors on various occasions, bit was told that there was no money in it.

This was partly true, but the major reason was that all the companies that were trying to do it were DVD subtitling firms with massive overheads resulting from the technology and hardware required for DVD subtitling. 

They were also charging prices for online video subtitling that no-one could afford. If you have made a video for YouTube costing £50, then you can’t afford subtitling.

I left the company last October and started Internetsubtitling.com in April this year. I run the business on my own from home, and have a network of freelancers around the world that I use for the work. 

Since my overheads are relativity low compared to the DVD subtitling firms, we can undercut everyone else by a significant amount. This way, a school or local government agency can afford to produce videos and make them more accessible for users.

How can you produce captions subtitles at lower prices?

Many people find it surprising when I tell them, but most DVD subtitling firms are still using tape and have to digitise it when it gets to the subtitling house. The ad side of video is more hi-tech, but there is still a lot of hardware required.

With web video, you don’t need all of this technology and hardware, so the associated costs are much lower, and we can offer a more accessible price for the service.

Have you picked up many clients yet?

We have a few clients, though it is a tough market out there, and many companies underestimate the potential value and importance of subtitling their online videos. In the current economic circumstances money is tight and what we do is often low on the list of priorities.

We have had some work from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the public sector is our main target, but it tends to move slowly.

Are you using the accessibility benefits to sell the service?

The hurdle I’m having to deal with at the moment is in educating people that making such content accessible should be nearer the top of their list of priorities. There are one in seven people in the UK with hearing impairments, as well as huge numbers of people who access online videos where they cannot hear the audio properly, in public places, offices etc.

From a commercial perspective, that is a large number of people to appeal to, especially when the costs of making this content accessible are relatively cheap.

What charging models do you offer?

A flat rate of £10 per minute of footage, which covers captioning, subtitles or language streams. I felt it was important to simplify and offer a flat rate because no-one else does.

I get sick of surfing the internet and seeing ‘call us for a quote’. It’s the 21st century, and it should be possible to provide more information online. The price we charge represents around 20% of the going rate, because I’m able to save on the hardware by only offering subtitling for web video.

It’s not a question of cutting corners though; I have just used my knowledge of the industry to find some excellent freelancers and the right technology for the job.

How have you funded the business?

It is now getting to the point where it is funding itself, and I have used savings to get the company to this point. I’ve managed to keep costs down, though there were some initial development costs, in finding the right software to work with different video formats from YouTube, Flash etc.

How can subtitling have SEO benefits?

This is one of the exciting things about subtitling. The kind of captioning and subtitling we offer is closed, meaning that it can be turned on or off by users of the video. This means that the captions are saved as a text file on the server, meaning it can be indexed by the search engines.

For instance, on Google Video, if you have closed captioning it can appear in search results, and though this isn’t possible yet for YouTube videos, this is something that will happen imminently.