‘We should do a genuine, live demo of Automatic Captioning’. That’s what our Head of Technology, Hewson Maxwell, and I said to each other at NAB, the world’s biggest broadcast and media trade show last year.
‘Why on earth did we say that?’ is what we’ve said a few times since. But now, NAB 2019 has been and gone, the dust has settled, and we can look back on successfully presenting a genuinely live demonstration on our booth. The Real Time Automatic Captioning demo proved to be an incredibly useful and rewarding thing to do.
We were lucky to work with some great partners to make it happen. The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) gave us the opportunity. Speechmatics provided the means, and our fantastic Automatic Captioning team at Red Bee Media delivered the end product.
The Opportunity – The ABC: The ABC is looking at ways of expanding the amount of accessibility they can provide across their programmes and content, in a way that also meets the requirement for responsible spending. They were aware that Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) has been getting better and better. So, they wanted us to provide a responsible and transparent implementation and evaluation of the technology. This would enable them to engage with their stakeholders with real world evidence. Working with a broadcaster willing to encourage and provide a platform for innovation in this way is incredibly valuable.
The Means – Speechmatics: Our approach from the very beginning has been to work with ASR providers who generate the best results out of our evaluation process – a mixture of our automated pipeline and more nuanced expert analysis. We have always said that if Speechmatics cease to be the best for a particular output, we’ll stop using them. It’s a competitive, fast-developing area of technology, and we want to use the best. So, it’s to their credit that they have consistently stayed ahead of the pack. Compared to some of the tech giants who also operate impressively in this space, they’re a small team who punch considerably above their weight in multiple languages. This makes them great partners for something like this – they can be responsive to our needs, in this case helping us get access to an early beta release, to help us bring down the latency for the NAB show demo. It also means they’re there to listen, learn and respond to the requirements we, our end customers and audiences have for ASR.
The Service – Red Bee Media: With the creation of our Red Lab R&D facility this year, we’ve really been able to focus on innovation across Red Bee. In the area of accessibility, we’ve been focusing not just on choosing the best ASR, but on how we can best optimise the quality and presentation of the captions. The team integrated Speechmatics’ ASR with our Subito Live platform which is already used to deliver approximately 100,000 hours of captioning a year globally, enabling us to take advantage of all the features already built into it. Our operational captioning experts have put together rules templates to ensure things like branding, channel naming, and news presentation styles are reliably presented correctly, as well as filtering for sensitive language and formatting language consistently. With playout and online integrations already built into Subito, it’s a plug and play proposition. We see our value as bringing our expertise in captioning and service provision to new technologies.
The first lesson from delivering the live demo at NAB 2019, was that taking a risk, backing yourself and backing your partners can have immense value. We were the only business at NAB showcasing a truly live Real Time Automatic Captioning demo. That drew people’s attention.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my top tips that I’ve learnt throughout this process.
- Focus: I strongly recommend all Product Managers spend as much time in front of the product as possible. Focused attention before and during the show meant we were able to resolve a lot of issues, and fine-tune presentation, delivery and integration, to get the best possible outcome. You learn a lot.
- Transparency: Our entire approach has been to ensure customers and potential customers are able to see what the quality of Automatic Captioning is actually like. It’s about trust. We want to help them manage quality responsibly for their viewers. It’s not a perfect technology. It means a live demo was perfect for showing people what the quality is actually like. It’s real, it works, and this is what it looks like. Great message.
- Customer testing: It doesn’t matter what we think. What do the people who come to see it think? Firstly, they were impressed and appreciated the fact it was live – no smoke and mirrors. Secondly, they were impressed by the accuracy. In some respects, the best moment for me happened before the show. A cleaner was tidying up the last of the pre-show mess, and they stopped in front of our screen with the ABC news on, but no sound, and stood reading the captions to understand what was happening on the news. That, for me, is the best feedback you could hope for.
Finally, it has helped strengthen the relationship between three great teams and we can’t wait to see how the partnerships continue to develop and grow over the next few years.
And now Hewson and I are saying a year on: ‘I’m so glad we did that. What next?’
Tom Wootton, Head of Product – Access Services, Red Bee Media