Improve Your Live Streams with YouTube Live Captioning

By: Verbit Editorial
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YouTube started as a fun and convenient platform for sharing short-form video content with a global audience. In the 18 years since its official launch, however, YouTube’s capabilities, features and functions have expanded exponentially. Currently, about 39% of YouTube users regularly view live streamed content pn the platform in lieu of or in addition to pre-recorded videos.  

Live streams enable creators to connect and interact with their audience in real-time, making them a popular communication tool for podcasters, journalists, gamers and more. YouTube’s live streaming platform also features a chat function that enables audience members to communicate with one another during a stream. While YouTube live streams are a great tool for simultaneous communication with a wide-ranging audience, there are some additional steps creators can take to ensure their live streams are inclusive and accessible to all. Below, we’ll discuss how live captioning can improve the accessibility of live stream content on YouTube and explore the best ways of implementing this assistive technology.  

Live captioning basics 

Captioning refers to the process of converting audio to on-screen text. Captions most often appear at the top or bottom of a video viewing window. However, in some cases, they appear on a separate monitor or captioning device and sync with a video’s audio. You can add captions to digital videos, films, TV broadcasts and nearly every other type of video content to boost accessibility and improve the user experience for modern audience members.  

Live captioning involves captioning real-time content rather than pre-recorded content. The process of live captioning can be a bit more complicated than post-production captioning. Real-time captions face time constraints as they need to appear instantaneously, eliminating the possibility of extensive editing or review. When done properly, adding captions to a YouTube live stream can not only support the needs of viewers with certain disabilities but can actually boost audience engagement across the board.  

Benefits of Live Captioning on YouTube

Adding captions to your YouTube live stream can prove beneficial in a number of ways. A few key benefits of offering live captions include:  

Improved accessibility 

All audience members deserve an equitable viewing experience when tuning in for a live stream from their favorite creator. However, audience members with certain disabilities may require additional support to fully engage with the live streamed content. Adding captions to video content is one of the best ways to improve accessibility for viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Captions are also a valuable resource for those with ADHD, auditory processing disorders and certain neurodivergent conditions like autism spectrum disorder.  

Enhanced user experience 

Because live streams broadcast in real-time, viewers may have to tune in from a less-than-desirable environment to avoid missing part of the stream. Viewers watching a live stream in a noisy, public location, for example, may struggle to hear everything. In these situations, providing accurate live captions could help streamline messaging and ensure that audience members don’t miss any important information, regardless of the quality of their viewing environment.  

Increased audience engagement 

With so much streaming content on YouTube, creators must find ways of standing out from the crowd and appealing to diverse audiences. Adding captions to a YouTube live stream can help expand its reach and boost real-time audience engagement. Research suggests that YouTube videos with captions receive a 12% increase in watch time over videos without captions, which makes live captioning a great tool for growing your live stream audience.  

Methods of live captioning on YouTube 

There are a few different methods for adding captions to content live streamed on YouTube. The first approach is to manually add captions with a caption encoder. This manual captioning workflow can be enabled during the set-up of a live stream and requires the use of specific, compatible captioning software.  

Alternatively, creators can take advantage of YouTube’s auto-captioning feature to automatically add captions to their live stream. YouTube’s software uses a type of speech recognition technology to receive audio input and convert it to text in real time. According to estimates, YouTube’s automatic captioning feature can create captions with 60-70% accuracy. While this tool is convenient and easily accessible, the relatively low accuracy rates of YouTube’s auto-captions make them insufficient for accessibility purposes and incapable of supporting critical web accessibility guidelines. For this reason, creators may wish to consider partnering with third-party captioning services to meet their live captioning needs.  

Challenges and limitations of live captioning on YouTube 

In addition to relatively low accuracy rates, YouTube’s automatic captioning tool is subject to some additional limitations. Because YouTube’s auto-captioning tool relies solely on artificial intelligence software, it may fail to accurately account for subtle nuances in human communication patterns. For example, YouTube’s automatic captions may struggle to accurately represent audio from live streams with multiple speakers or accents present. Automatic speech recognition tools may also produce inaccurate captions due to substantial background noise or poor internet connectivity.  

Additionally, YouTube’s auto-captioning tool is limited in its language recognition capabilities and currently, only English-language content is eligible for live captioning on the platform. Most importantly, YouTube’s automatic captioning solution is currently only available to users with over 1,000 subscribers, which means creators who are just starting out on the platform will need to use alternative methods for adding captions to their live streams.   

Tools and technologies for live captioning on YouTube 

Rather than relying on tedious manual captioning processes or speech-to-text software alone, creators can partner with a professional captioning provider to streamline their captioning process. Verbit is a leading provider of captioning and transcription services thanks to their two-pronged approach to creating accurate captions.  

Verbit’s process combines the speed and efficiency of AI-powered captioning software with the expertise and diligence of professionally trained human transcribers to produce highly accurate captions for a wide range of media projects. For live streams, Verbit’s software integrates seamlessly with the YouTube platform, so a professional captioner can easily create accurate captions in real-time and add them to the stream. At the conclusion of a live stream, the real-time captions will undergo review and editing to further enhance accuracy before being provided to a creator for future use.  

Best practices for YouTube live captioning  

To maximize the value of your live captioning efforts, it is important to familiarize yourself with captioning best practices. Generally speaking, captions should be:  


Partnering with a professional captioning service like Verbit is the easiest way to ensure your captions are accurate enough to support accessibility requirements like the ADA. Failing to offer accurate captions can not only negatively impact audience members’ perception of your channel but can actually open creators up to legal challenges and complaints.  


Live captions should represent all audio elements of a live stream, not just the spoken text. Dialogue-only captions – commonly referred to as subtitles – can be a valuable resource for some audience members, but they do not offer sufficiently accessible viewing experiences to audience members with disabilities because they don’t account for audio elements like sound effects or music cues.  

Properly timed 

Captions differ from transcripts in that captions display in sync with the corresponding audio. If captions appear with substantial lag time, for example, some viewers will receive information much later than others. While it can be difficult to control the timing of real-time captions due to low-speed internet connectivity and other technological constraints, creators should work with captioning partners who offer editing and review of captions after the fact to further improve their accuracy and timing.  

Future trends and developments in live captioning on YouTube 

YouTube’s platform has evolved substantially since its inception in 2005, and this evolution is only expected to continue in the coming years. Over time, advancements in speech recognition and AI technology will likely improve the accuracy and overall quality of YouTube’s auto-captioning tool for live content, making it easier for creators to scale their accessibility efforts and further boost audience engagement. Additionally, YouTube will likely expand its language recognition capabilities to allow for muti-language live captioning and real-time translation.  

YouTube’s platform that the content on it will also likely continue to evolve. Already, YouTube rolled out 360° videos, and live virtual reality experiences probably aren’t far behind. As YouTube’s capabilities change, so will the needs of audience members. As a result, creators will want to continue working with professional providers of assistive technologies to ensure all of their media content is sufficiently accessible and engaging, even in the face of new technologies and tools.  

Implementing a captioning strategy 

The implementation of successful live captioning can have a substantial impact on engagement and accessibility and help content creators get more mileage out of the live streamed content. As content strategies continue to evolve, the need for accurate captions will only continue to grow. Verbit offers seamless software integrations and bulk-uploading capabilities that can help creators improve the quality of their YouTube live streams without compromising on cost or efficiency.  

Supporting the diverse needs of modern audiences is no small feat, but proactively offering accurate and comprehensive assistive technology solutions is one of the best ways to set your channel apart as one that values inclusivity and accessibility for all. To learn more about how to add accurate captions to your YouTube live streams, reach out to Verbit today