Providing Purpose in the Era of Video
Now more than ever, employees are searching for meaning at work, and Josh Miller believes they can find it at 3Play Media.
3Play Media helps make the overwhelming amount of digital media consumed every day more accessible. The services benefit end-users who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or low vision, and people with cognitive disabilities, and the team is passionate about that mission.
As a closed-captioning, transcription and audio description service, 3Play Media is positioned to provide accessibility solutions for those having much-needed conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. In this way, the company offers its full-time and contract workers the opportunity to make a positive impact.
“We could change the conversation around video accessibility from being all about cost and something we have to do to being focused on value and something we always do because it leads to better video in general,” said Miller, co-CEO and co-founder of 3Play Media.
3Play allows viewers to consume video in a variety of settings, such as in a library where having the sound on could be gauche. Captions help everyone consume content more easily, not just people with disabilities. “Accessible content is truly better for everyone because it enables all people, regardless of ability or disability, to consume content as they wish,” Miller said. Currently, the company serves more than 10,000 customers across multiple industries such as education and media.
The demand for video has grown during the pandemic, and the need for accessibility has grown with it. According to the annual State of the Stream report, live streaming increased by 99 percent during 2020, when the world turned to virtual events to connect. Captioning solutions need to keep up with the pace of video, and 3Play is striving to meet that need by using machine learning and natural language processing techniques, in combination with human transcription.
When he isn’t home coaching his sons in sports or playing board games with his family, Miller oversees the go-to-market side of the business, including sales, marketing, account management and business development. Built In Boston connected with him for more insight into the opportunities 3Play offers its workers to make a difference during this booming era of video content.
Give me an overview of the market and current issues surrounding accessibility.
Twenty percent of the U.S. population, or 48 million people, are deaf or hard of hearing. Meanwhile, ten percent of the U.S. population, or 24 million people, are blind or have low vision. That’s a lot of people when you consider that 71 percent of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it is not accessible.
Since the pandemic started, video is even more critical to communication, becoming a central component of our ability to work and communicate in remote environments. It’s essential to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate and stay connected.
A study conducted by Publicis and Verizon Media found that most people expect captions to be present and acknowledge that they are more likely to watch a video to the end if captions are available. We know from prior research that 80 percent of people using captions are not deaf or hard of hearing. Captions help with content that is difficult to hear or hard-to-understand accents and also enable searchability and translation for global audiences.
Finally, audio description for blind and low-vision users is inconsistently supported by many platforms. Audio description has historically been viewed as an expensive and workflow-intensive solution, leading many video publishers to forego its implementation. Due to the increase in digital accessibility lawsuits — more than 4,000 are expected to be filed this year — I predict audio description will become more of a requirement to achieve appropriate compliance levels.
71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it is not accessible.”
How does your company fit in the overall marketplace?
3Play Media provides services to make video accessibility easier for video publishers. We work with companies to automate workflows and provide peace of mind that they are creating the best viewing experience as well as achieving compliance.
When we started, we had a customer before we had a finished product. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology needed a cost-effective and accurate captioning solution for its OpenCourseWare product after receiving notice from funders that content needed to be accessible. At the time, there were few options. We explored various methods of creating closed captions with the aid of speech technology. Through iterations, we designed a process that is still largely in play today: Start with speech recognition, enable a human to edit efficiently, then conduct a guided spot check for quality assurance purposes. Over the years, we’ve added more machine learning and natural language processing techniques to ensure timely, accurate output at scale. Thousands of audio and video files go through our system every single day.
From a differentiation perspective, we pride ourselves on the quality of service we provide. We produce accurate transcript and caption files and enable a level of automation that is unmatched by providing more than 30 integrations with the leading video platforms. We support our customers with knowledge and training; we are the authority when it comes to video accessibility.
Captions in particular benefit everyone. We envision a world where every video will be captioned — be it for accessibility, compliance, searchability, user engagement or translation. Our job is to accelerate that timeline by educating publishers and developing innovative tools and approaches to make it easier to accomplish.
How has the pandemic impacted 3Play’s growth?
The events over the last year and a half provided an accelerator for our vision. Two significant growth axes came into play. Clearly, there is more video everywhere you look. Meetings are virtual, events are virtual, even school was virtual for a little while. And all of those took the form of video communication. The second axis was the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion, of which accessibility is a component. Suddenly, we had more video along with heightened awareness of accessibility.
In addition to the spike in video consumption, 79 percent of companies surveyed by Event Builder expected to host hybrid events this year, which led to a spike in demand for live captioning. We launched a live auto-captioning solution just months before the pandemic began. This is an automated solution that uses speech recognition in real time. While this may work for some events, many programs require high quality captions, and we’ve responded to the demand by developing a live professional captioning solution, where humans deliver highly accurate captions in real time, which is currently in a pre-launch beta form.
Problems That Need Fixing
Why is this work important?
The concept of universal design — creating items that can be consumed by people of all abilities — is helpful here. Some people prefer to read, others prefer to listen. Many view the text as a worthwhile aid along the way. Derek Featherstone from Level Access said it brilliantly: “Today’s accessibility requirement is tomorrow’s usability standard.” In other words, accessible content makes for a more user-friendly world, so we should make it part of the process from the beginning.
On the production side, our system leverages the use of remote, contract labor to perform some of the key tasks to create the transcript, caption and description outputs. The marketplace we’ve designed allows people to work on the content they want to work on, when they want to work on it. It’s completely flexible and designed to pay people fairly — an anomaly in this industry. People can treat it as a method for supplemental income whenever they have time or turn it into a significant income stream. That flexibility became even more important during the pandemic, when many people who lost jobs either temporarily or permanently were seeking the ability to scale their hours up and down according to their needs in an environment where they are safe and do not need to commute.
Why are you personally invested in this mission?
When we started the company, we were actually early to the market. Things have evolved since then, yet I still feel as though we’re at the tip of the iceberg. Video continues to grow at a rocket-ship pace, and we can do so much more to ensure every piece is accessible from the start.
We sit in a unique position in the tech ecosystem as a growing technology company that makes a real positive impact on the world. Being the leader in the market is something I don’t take lightly. I’m incredibly proud of what our team has accomplished together. We also cannot be complacent; it’s critical that we continue to innovate to maintain our position in what has become a fast-moving market.
The growth of the market, along with our growth internally, presents exciting new challenges every day. I get to go to work and solve problems with smart, fun people. You can’t beat that.