Captioning for Amazon Video Direct (using Adobe Premiere)

I have previously written about Amazon Video Direct (AVD). It’s an awesome opportunity for indie filmmakers to get your content in front of a large potential audience, and it pays better than Youtube. For stand alone or episodic content, it’s a great outlet.

One thing might slow you down as you start to publish your videos on Amazon: Captioning.

Amazon Video requires that all content be captioned before they will publish it. Period. That can be a bit scary. A few years ago I paid about $2500 to a captioning/delivery house to caption and deliver 10 episodes (22:30 each) to a TV network. Now, they captioned the shows in both 708 and 608 captions, and delivered the files in HD to the network and gave me copies of the .scc 608 files so I could use them later. But still, $250 per episode. I’m making indie films with budgets less than that.

Luckily, Amazon suggests a few online captioning services which are much less expensive. One, Rev.com, offers captioning for $1 per minute and delivers in various formats. They can provide captions that are AVD compliant. They even have a free caption converter, should you need one. That means my 22:30 shows would cost about $23 for captioning for AVD.

Still, $23 is money you may not want to spend. What if you want to make your own? You can, but Amazon is very finicky about their files. I will share what I have learned. I have 1 season (10 episodes) of a show and 2 short films available right now, with 1 more short film in review. (Now published)

Adobe Premiere has the ability to create and export closed caption files. But getting a caption file that AVD likes is not simple. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Create a 608 Caption file. Premiere will do 708 files, but Amazon does not seem to like these 708 files. I have only had success with 608 files exported from Adobe for Amazon. Premiere can even import existing .scc files, allowing you to edit them.

Export .scc or .srt. When exporting your video file for upload, export a sidecar caption file as either an .scc or .srt. If you have content that is 29.97 use the .scc format, otherwise use the .srt. AVD says they will take an .stl file, which Premiere will export. But I’ve not had any luck using that format.

If you’re lucky, that’s all you need to do. Just upload and publish.

For my last short film I was not lucky. I was exporting a 23.976 fps file using .srt, and I could not get AVD to accept it. It was exactly like a previously accepted caption file for a previous short film. What was the problem? After trying multiple files over multiple days, I was frustrated. I turned up this post in the Adobe Community Forums. Scrolling through I found 2 solid things to try.

1. The timecode of your captions cannot overlap the same frame.

In Premiere you can see where one caption ends and another begins. Here’s a screen shot from premiere of my latest short film:

If the 1st caption you see ends at 00:00:20:08 and the next captions starts at 00:00:20:08, AVD has a problem with that file. So you need to go through all your captions and make sure none of them overlap.

2. Remove extra content.

During the exchange in the post in the Adobe Forum “Joshb88988268” says, “open the .SRT file with notepad and do a search for this: or the word font color. Delete any that pop up.”

As a mac user I found a free program called Brackets and was able to open the .srt file. Sure enough there were 2 lines with the tag and some extra info about “font color”. I deleted those lines and hit save. My captions in the code editor looked like this:

No extra tags or words. Just number of caption, timecode, and caption content. Brackets should also be able to open a .scc file.

So far that seems to have worked. At this point I have to ask myself, if I’m uploading a 4 minute short film, is it worth spending $4 to bypass all this effort? It might be. But since I have the captions done, I would like to be able to use them.

[Update: while I was typing this post, Amazon has begun approving my video. Looks like the latest captions with these changes worked.]

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What to Do When a Copyright Claim is Initated on Your Youtube Video For Music You Have the Right to Use

If you use music from royalty free libraries or websites on videos for your Youtube channel, there is a high likelihood that you will eventually get an email with the subject “[Youtube] A copyright claim was submitted for content in…”

Don’t panic. It’s not personal. No one is targeting you. And while it’s annoying to be accused of stealing music, the Content ID system is automated.

Here are the steps to fixing this.

Read the email. In most cases you are in no danger of having your channel shut down, or even seeing the video take down. Most of the time the claimant just places ads on your video and has the money sent to their account. That’s an annoyance, but any money that is collected while the claim is in place will revert back to your account once it’s removed. Still, I normally take the video out of public view, setting it to “unlisted” so only people with a link can see it.

Note the content that has been claimed. Who is making the claim, etc… Is it AdRev? If so, then your dispute process is very easy.

Check your content. Do you in fact have the rights to use it? I’m sure you do. But dig out the library you took the music from, find the name of the track. If you can find the receipt, even better.

Research the claimant and the company making the claim. Every single time I have been flagged for copyright on my monetized videos it has been an individual making a fraudulent claim through a 3rd party. There is a guy in Denmark or somewhere that has claimed dozens of tracks from Digital Juice‘s library, and he uses AdRev to make copyright claims online. He does not own the content.

The last claim I had was from a Canadian using a French Canadian company, so much of the communication was in French. (Thank goodness for Google Translate.) This gentlemen had exported a Digital Juice audio track and added ambient waterfall and bird noise. Then he put that track on an album that is available through iTunes and Spotify. His record company was policing the content they think he owns. So a video using the same track (which I purchased from Digital Juice just like he did.) was claimed.

Contact the company making the claim. You’re first instance will be to start a dispute through the YouTube process. That process can take 30 days. And YouTube is just acting as the intermediary between you and the company. I normally go to the company first, and then start a dispute in a few days. I find that the claims are released wishing a few days.

If the claim was made by AdRev, just go to their website, and scroll to the bottom and click “contact us.” They get so many emails about this they have their contact page set up to hear your dispute. They have now added a place to upload a copy of the license for the music in question. in the past, regarding the Digital Juice tracks, I have just explained the origin of the music and reminded them that the person making the claim does not in fact own the copyright. They know this, they have heard it many times. But they still keep him as a customer and make fraudulent claims against legally used music. In every case so far (so far) the claim has been released within 24 hours. I have had to dispute music like this over a dozen times with AdRev. (One caveat, if you are using a MusicBed track, the account rep from MusicBed must contact them, otherwise they won’t release the claim.)

In other cases, with different companies, I have simply emailed and explained the mistake. I outlined where the music in question was taken from, what library and what track title. I explained the rights to use the music as it was in the video had been purchased from the company owning the library. And pointed out that the person making the claim did not in fact own the rights or have the legal right to claim the music as his own work. And asked for the claim to be released.

In the case of the Canadian, I also pointed out the differences in the audio. I had not used all of the stems from the Digital Juice tracks, and had not added the ambient noise. It was literally impossible for me to have stolen his recording and used it in my idea. the audio in my video did not actually match his. The claim was released the same day.

File a dispute through Youtube. I almost always file a dispute through the Youtube process if the claim is not released after the initial contact. Once you file a dispute, the company making the claim has 30 days to respond. If they don’t respond, the claim is removed. If they do respond and do not release the claim… well, I’ve never had that happen.

Every single time I have ever contacted a company and explained where I got the music and why I legally have the right to use it, the claim has been released. According to Youtube, if the claim is not released, you can appeal. There is another 30 day period. If the appeal is rejected a 2nd time, and the claimant requests a takedown of the video your account will get a copyright strike.

Most of the time you won’t get to this level. I never have. You can find horror stories online, but normally companies are not that difficult to deal with.

For whatever reason, some people think that buying Royalty Free music and using it in some sort of creative work means they have the exclusive right to use the track. They don’t, but their misunderstanding means you may have annoying claims on your videos. Stay calm, and politely state your case. Most of the time you can get them released without too much trouble.