Image generated by DALL-E. Prompt: A photo-realistic image of a 1990s-style desktop computer sitting on a wooden desk. On the CRT-style monitor is a web browser showing a video website reminiscent of YouTube. A video is playing of a woman making a speech. Across the middle of the screen is a notice that says "TRANSCRIBING". Next to the computer on the desk is a dot-matrix style printer, with reams of paper emerging from it in quick motion. The paper is piling up on and around the desk as if it has been printing for a long time. The computer and desk and in a boring office cubicle, with ceiling tiles and flourescent lights visible in the background.

How to get a transcript of a YouTube video

Sure, watching a video is nice, but sometimes it’s just easier to work with text. Maybe you need a quote for a paper you’re working on, you’re trying to work out some song lyrics, or you’re just the kind of person who prefers reading. Transcripts are great, we love transcripts.

Unfortunately YouTube – the place that 9 out of 10 adults watch the majority of their online video – does not offer video transcripts, even though they auto-generate a transcript for every single video uploaded to their platform. This is because those transcripts are used for subtitles; YouTube doesn’t want you to have access to the full transcription in a useful format, they want you to watch the videos (so they can show you ads!).

Aside from the subtitles, YouTube also allow you to access a video’s subtitles as a navigational aid. Click “…more” to expand the video’s description, and find the “Show transcript” button to open up a side panel with timestamped lines from the video. Click on any line to jump to that section of the video. Unfortunately there’s no way to export this text other than manually copy and pasting it, so this is where your built-in transcript download options begin and end with YouTube.

But, if you want to download the full transcript of a YouTube video in a useful format, for whatever reason, you have a few options.

The traditional way – commission a transcript

For those of us who have gotten used to automation and AI this might seem incredibly quaint, but there are still lots of services out there such as OG online transcribing service Rev which create transcripts the old-fashioned way, by getting a human to watch the video and write down what they hear. But wait! There are good reasons for this approach. AI is maturing fast, but there are some things it can’t do just yet.

For example if you want captions including audio descriptions, not just subtitles, humans are still the best way to go. AI can’t figure out what is contextually important for storytelling, so although it might be able to correctly identify audio within a video, it won’t know if wind howling in the distance or a car door closing is an important story beat, or just some random background audio.

Similarly, if you want your subtitles translated into another language, a human translator could be a better bet than an AI due to cultural differences and context. An English speaker might describe an easy task as “a piece of cake”, but an AI won’t understand the metaphor and will translate literally, describing the task as “un porción de pastel” for Spanish viewers, which won’t make any sense whatsoever.

So, in many cases, human transcription still makes sense. Or, as is becoming more common, a first pass with AI then a manual review to correct errors by a living, breathing human.

The fast way – generate an AI transcript

If what you’re looking for is an English-language, dialogue-only video transcript, by far the easiest and cheapest way to get this done is with an AI tool. In fact, if the video you want to transcribe is less than 30 minutes, you can do it completely free with Imaginario AI.

AI YouTube transcripts are generated in much the same way as YouTube’s own transcripts, using a voice recognition model to turn speech into text. Depending on the subject matter, you may find a third-party transcription generator gives a more reliable output than YouTube’s own model, which tends to struggle with acronyms, strong accents or technical language. “ChatGPT” often becomes “Chat gbt” and “JSON” almost always becomes “Jason”. And, importantly, a third-party service will let you download the transcript in a format you can use!

Generating a YouTube transcript in 30 seconds

Lets see just how fast we can generate an AI transcript. One of the secrets of AI transcription is that the video is processed faster than it can be watched. AI systems can digest all of the dialogue as a single input, free from the linear passage of time that shackles us fleshy humans. Lets see how we do.

The process is, as the Spanish say, un porción de pastel.

Step 1: Register for an Imaginario account

I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one. Just get to it.

Step 2: Import your video

You can import videos into our platform through file upload or direct connection to your favorite cloud storage, but for the purposes of this experiment we’ll be importing directly from YouTube. All you need is the YouTube link.

Step 3: Choose speech processing

We can also recognize visuals and audio in any video, but if we’re just making a transcript, we only need to process the speech. This saves us a bit of processing juice and saves you a bit of time.

Step 4: Download your transcript

Once your video has finished processing, choose Download -> Subtitles, with your file format as text and hey presto, you’ve got a 99% accurate transcript of a YouTube video in less than a minute!

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