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Closed Captions vs Subtitles: What’s the Difference?

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Thanks to the internet, many modern businesses are global businesses. People are connecting across borders and oceans with brands headquartered in all corners of the world. It’s an exciting phenomenon, particularly for companies with big ambitions. But, international expansion is not without its challenges – language and cultural barriers can sabotage attempts to break into new markets and win over new audiences.

For this reason, among others, global businesses are increasingly leveraging multimedia tools like subtitles for training purposes and multilingual marketing campaigns. In addition, they are embracing closed captions to expand their reach and enhance the accessibility of their content while ensuring compliance with legislation (ADA compliance, for example).

Let’s explore the concepts of closed captions, subtitles, and other communication tools and discuss how they can improve accessibility, generate international reach, and lock in compliance.

What’s the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

First, let’s define closed captions and subtitles:

  • What are closed captions? Closed captions are audio transcriptions designed to enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing to engage with video content. Closed captions do not necessarily translate the content from one language to another. In addition to what’s spoken, captioning typically includes written descriptions of sound effects and music. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many entities have an obligation to caption their videos – not doing so may be considered discrimination.
  • What are subtitles? Subtitles are written translations of dialogue that appear on-screen and in real time. For example, someone in the United States who speaks English might watch a French-language film with English subtitles. Subtitles allow them to understand the film despite the language barrier.

So, what’s the difference between the two? The major difference is the intended purpose. Where closed captions aim to make content accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, subtitles enable people to understand content with dialogue or voiceovers in a language other than their own. Closed captions do not always translate dialogue from one language to another, whereas subtitles do. Finally, closed captions include dialogue, sound effects, and music, and subtitles only include dialogue.

C:\Users\effies\Downloads\Closed Captions vs Subtitles What’s the Difference

What’s the difference between closed and open captions?

What about open captions? Subtitles translate, and closed captions denote all dialogue and audio effects, so what do open captions achieve?

In short, open captions cannot be switched off by the viewer. In contrast, closed captions are optional – they are not programmed into the video and can, therefore, be removed and applied as needed.

What’s the difference between transcription and captioning?

As we’ve established, captioning is the on-screen notation of a video’s audio track. It appears with the video in real time. A transcription, on the other hand, is a separate document that records the auditory content of a video or sound recording. Where captioning is displayed alongside the media, a transcription can be read separately.

C:\Users\effies\Downloads\Closed Captions vs Subtitles What’s the Difference

The importance of adding captioning or subtitles to videos

Captions, subtitles, and, in some cases, transcriptions can transform the power and reach of a piece of content. Here are three reasons you should consider adding closed captions or subtitles to your business’s videos.

1. Captioning improves accessibility

More than 5 percent of the world’s population – that’s 430 million individuals – live with disabling hearing loss. By 2050, one in every ten people will experience hearing loss that affects their day-to-day lives.

By captioning your videos, you allow this significant portion of the population to engage with your content, whether they are newly employed staff working through your training materials, students taking your course, or would-be customers engaging with your brand.

Accessibility is a right, and many businesses are required to caption their videos under the ADA. According to Title II, all public entities at the local and state level must not discriminate and must ensure “effective communication” using assistive technology like captioning. In addition, Title III bans disability discrimination in “places of public accommodation,” such as universities, hotels, transportation services, libraries, theatres, and other publicly and privately owned organizations. To be compliant, captions must be 99 percent accurate.

2. Reach new audiences

Captions and subtitles can help you reach and engage new audiences. Did you know the majority of YouTube audiences are outside the US? In fact, India is home to the most YouTube watchers in the world by a significant margin. Indonesia, Brazil, and Japan are other significant, non-English speaking audiences.

By investing in subtitles or captions, you invite large groups of people to watch your brand’s videos, undertake your courses, use your products, and more.

C:\Users\effies\Downloads\Closed Captions vs Subtitles What’s the Difference

3. Secure more views

Even if you aren’t ready for global expansion, captions and subtitles can encourage more views and longer watch times. And you know how social media algorithms work: the more views a video attracts, the greater the number of people the video is shown to. Then the cycle continues. 

How does this work, exactly? According to estimates, around 85 percent of videos on Facebook are viewed without sound. Think about this example – most people don’t want to disturb fellow commuters with sound from their phones, so they switch it off and exclusively watch videos with captions to pass the time. It makes perfect sense.

In addition, internal tests at Facebook revealed that captioned video ads increased view time by an average of 12 percent.

What’s more, YouTube video captions are indexed by Google. This means that Google uses captions to understand what the video is about and decide whether it’s relevant to people searching various keywords. If Google finds your video to be relevant, it will show up in search results, which means more organic views.

Captions and subtitles unlock game-changing benefits

Captions and subtitles improve accessibility, connect your brand with new audiences, and increase video views. In other words, there are no downsides, only benefits.

If you are ready to invest in high-quality, accurate captions or subtitles for your videos, training materials, product offerings, or other multimedia content, get in touch. We can help you realize your global expansion goals while remaining compliant.

Read also:

Differences between video dubbing and subtitling + List per country

Best practices for subtitle translations

A glimpse into the subtitling endeavor

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