You don’t have to be a high-tech whiz to add subtitles and links to any online video, thanks to Israel’s Subber website.

Subber team

Subber, making subtitling easier for the masses.

The Jerusalem Post had a problem that needed to be solved as quickly as the breaking news. When Shimon Peres met with Gilad Shalit immediately following Shalit’s release, the conversation was recorded on video and made available to the media. But naturally, it was all in Hebrew.

To stay timely, the Post didn’t have the luxury of going to a recording studio to add a narration soundtrack, nor could it afford to have subtitles created and synchronized with the video from a professional facility as is usually done for movies and television programs.

Instead, the English-language Israeli newspaper turned to Subber, a small Israeli startup that lets mere mortals quickly add subtitles via the web. The result was a fully subtitled video in minutes.

Subber analyzes the video and places empty subtitle fields where it perceives dialogue to be switching from person to person. If Subber guesses wrong, you can stretch or move the fields.

Subber can also translate the speech in a video into written subtitles. Accuracy depends on the video, explains Shahar Shpalter, the company’s founder. The audio of a professionally made movie will be much clearer and result in a better translation than, say, a homemade video of your preschooler’s birthday party. Nevertheless, it cuts down on some of the work.

Professional subtitling is costly

Subber was born three years ago when Shpalter, then a budding filmmaker, was pitching his 13-minute mini-drama to the Venice International Film Festival. But the festival’s rules mandated that the film be subtitled in English, Italian and other European languages. Shpalter visited post-production companies but was deterred by the complexity and cost.

Shpalter, whose background is in user interface design, joined with Yanir Saban and natural language processing expert Ori Shechter. Together, they raised $1 million in seed capital from Yossi Vardi and several private investors.

Subber launched in August last year. With no promotion beyond word of mouth, it already has hundreds of users, primarily in Israel but also in the United States, Portugal and Germany.

Subber is designed to work with any video that is already online, no matter who created or posted it. “The video and the subtitles exist on entirely separate layers. The video is still being played from YouTube and we display it on the Subber site using YouTube’s own APIs, which are completely legal. All we create that’s new is the subtitles file,” Shpalter explains.

The Subber site has its own embed codes, so a video can appear on any other website. Tech-savvy users can export the subtitles file and combine it on YouTube, but for most users that’s probably overkill.

Links for advertisers

Subber has some creative ideas to make money. Since the subtitles are separate from the video, any word can be a link. This opens up functionality for advertisers.

The Subber website has an example of the now-viral Jennifer Aniston pitch for SmartWater. The text isn’t a translation but a transcription in English. Wherever the term “SmartWater” appears there is a link that opens the company’s website.

Links can be more subtle: if an actor cries out, “I’m hungry,” this could link to an ad for Burger King. And individuals can use Subber to open their LinkedIn profiles, resumes or even Wikipedia entries.

A Subber subtitle track can just pop on and off with quick links. A few keywords placed here and there may be less obtrusive to viewers and more effective for advertisers.

Content creators can also use Subber to improve search engine optimization. Since searching inside video is tricky (search engines mainly look at the titles, descriptions and key words associated with a video), a text-based subtitle track can give Google a better clue of what you’re interested in. And since it’s associated with video, Google ranks it particularly high, says Shpalter.

Google “double rainbow” and “SmartWater,” and you might get a link that takes you to exactly two minutes and 27 seconds into the video where Jennifer Anniston comforts HungryBear9562. That kind of SEO can also be turned into a revenue generator, Shpalter says.

Subbing on the fly

Subbing on the fly is particularly intriguing for journalists and citizen bloggers alike. Imagine a smartphone-recorded video from Tahrir Square, for example, which can be uploaded to YouTube quickly with subtitles already in place.

Unique in its space, Subber is looking to raise more money to help finance a public marketing splash and expand beyond the small team of six in the company’s Tel Aviv office.

The startup’s website is full of inspiration. There’s a translation of an Enimem rap video into Russian, a Hebrew version of a Chuck Norris video and an English translation of a recent speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shpalter’s favorite is a video with sarcastic subtitles under a serious debate between Stav Shafrir, one of the leaders of last summer’s social justice protests in Israel, and politician Miri Regev. The subtitles purport to describe what the two “really mean.” Shpalter isn’t alone in his approval: the video is a verifiable Internet hit with some 50,000 views already.

Let the subbing begin.