Get Your Videos Out: How To Meet Hulu’s Standards for Captions and Subtitles

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With 20 million US subscribers and counting, according to its own estimates, Hulu is a highly alluring platform for video creators vying to distribute their content online. In fact, statistics from Comscore show that together with Netflix, Google, and Amazon, the three other members of the industry’s “big four,” Hulu accounted for 78.8 percent of all video streaming in the nation in 2018.

Hulu viewers appreciate the ease with which they can turn closed captions on and off as well as the ability to customize captions and subtitles.

Consumers interested in Hulu are also especially intrigued by topics that include consumer electrics, travel, and home furnishings, says a demographic study by Quantcast which combined online search history with other data. Anecdotal evidence suggests that beyond the content itself, two aspects that Hulu viewers like about the platform is the ease with which they can turn closed captions on and off in addition to customizing captions and subtitles by font style, color, size, and more. Options for turning on subtitles and captions, as well as for customization, vary according to device.

If you wish to post your video content to one of the big four, there are ways you might do so with any of them. Be aware, though, that you’ll find Hulu a particularly challenging place to start unless you’re affiliated with a major media company.

Hulu vs. Other ‘Big Four’ Streaming Platforms

Hulu can be a tough nut to crack because its business model differs from that of Amazon or YouTube, for instance. Hulu specializes in ad-supported as well as ad-free paid subscription services for three types of streamed video.

Type 1: Hulu-Produced Original Content

One type consists of Hulu-produced original content like The Handmaid’s Tale, winner of Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and the Grammy-winning documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, The Touring Years. By the way, Amazon Prime Video also produces some of its own content, through its Amazon Originals series.

Type 2: Content Licensing Deals

Other video for Hulu distribution comes through licensing deals with media companies, in which Hulu acquires rights to their video content to add to its own media library. Hulu subscribers can binge on past episodes of South Park, 30 Rock, or even the 1960s series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to name only a few of the seemingly endless possibilities. The vast majority of licensing deals go to large and well-established media firms, although there is some room at the table for independent moviemakers.

Type 3: Live TV

Since May of 2017, Hulu has also streamed live sports, news, entertainment, and other events through a service called Hulu + Live. Amazon also offers live TV options, as does Google through Youtube TV.

Google, though, also encourages direct submission of video content as a key part of its focus on streaming user-generated content on Youtube. Amazon Prime urges direct submissions of content from independent moviemakers as well as studios and distributors through its Amazon Prime Video Direct platform. Hulu and Netflix, in contrast, do not allow direct submissions.

In fact, on their websites, Hulu and Netflix both state policies of not accepting unsolicited content. So what can you do if you’re hankering to distribute video on the Hulu platform with Hulu closed captions?

How To Get Your Video Distributed on Hulu

Step 1: Get Clear on Requirements for Captions and Subtitles

To stand a chance with Hulu or Netflix, you must be able to present a topnotch finished product, as opposed to a story idea, a script, or rough video footage, many experts advise. A finished product includes post-production captioning, and often movie subtitling as well.

In the Netflix Style Guide, Netflix publishes very detailed specifications for timed-text open captions on original content, including format, character limitation, font, font color, reading speed, and speaker ID/sound effects, for instance.

Specs for Hulu captions and Hulu subtitles, on the other hand, are not publicly available. However, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), passed in 2010, requires closed captioning for all online video previously shown on TV in the US with closed captioning. Then in 2016, Hulu agreed to provide closed captions for 100 percent of its full-length video content, in an out-of-court settlement that emerged from a lawsuit by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) around compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Netflix and Amazon had previously reached their own respective settlements with the NAD, although terms of these agreements were different in each case. Amazon and Youtube both provide detailed specifications for closed captions on their websites, just as Netflix does.

In the absence of publicly available closed captioning standards from Hulu, you still must adhere to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards for accuracy, timeliness, completeness, and placement on the screen.

Subtitles are different from captions, though. Where captions include dialogue along with ambient noise and music cues, subtitles consist of dialogue translated into another language. Subtitles aren’t subject to the same legal requirements as captions. Yet subtitles are a great option to choose if you want to expand the audience for your video content. Some videos streamed on Hulu include subtitles.

Step 2: Create Closed Captions

To be distributed on Hulu, however, a full-length video must include closed captions. Closed captions offer many other advantages, anyway. With the closed caption option, viewers can choose whether to turn captions on or off, whereas they can’t do so with open captions.

Many tools are available to help you accurately transcribe speech and other sounds to text, and to produce closed captions and subtitles. These include software and professional services from Rev.

By the way, Rev holds out a guarantee that the captions file produced by Rev will not keep your video from being accepted on premium platforms that include Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Facebook, and Vimeo. Under Rev’s Video Acceptance Guarantee, if a caption file ordered from Rev is rejected by any of these platforms. Rev will fix it within 48 hours. All you need to do is submit the file to Rev, along with the reason for rejection.

Under Rev’s Video Acceptance Guarantee, if a caption file ordered from Rev is rejected by any of these platforms. Rev will fix it within 48 hours. All you need to do is submit the file to Rev, along with the reason for rejection.

Step 3: Approach Hulu by Email

In its policy statement about unsolicited submissions, Netflix specifically states that a submission is regarded as unsolicited unless it comes from “a licensed literary agent, or from a producer, attorney, manager, or entertainment executive with whom we have a preexisting relationship.”

In contrast, Hulu doesn’t specify a similar requirement, although Hulu states that it’s company policy to delete any unsolicited submission without reading it. On the other hand, the provider also publishes an email address for its content team, for use by content owners interested in distributing their content on Hulu. Some say that emailing with Hulu can be worth a shot.

Step 4: Team up with a Video Distributor (if necessary)

Generally speaking, though, many independent video creators who want to post their work on either Hulu or Netflix end up going to distributors for assistance, either sooner or later. The upside here is that distributors are already well connected with Hulu and other online streaming platforms and know the ins and outs of how to get one- to two-year licensing agreements.

The main downside here is that, if you do achieve a licensing deal, you will have to share revenues with the distributor, also known as the aggregator. Also, depending on the distributor, you might need to pay a one-time upfront fee, too, ranging from as low as $50 to as high as $750.

A few of the best-known distributors are Streaming Features, Speck, and Distribber. If and when you do get a deal, it’s time to hand over your video, caption, and art files to the distributor. The distributor will then work with an encoding house and other vendors to deliver your film to your new online distribution platform.

As an aspiring indie movie maker, you should also set up your own website, if you haven’t already, and leverage search engine optimization (SEO) and social media techniques to help drive traffic there. If you’ve been worthy and lucky enough to land a deal with Hulu, you can generate additional revenue by embedding your movie’s Hulu code directly into your site. That way, when a visitor views an ad on your site. Hulu will share the ad revenue with you.