July 24, 2020

Difference Between Closed Captions and Subtitles

Video Content Tips

If you are a video content creator, you may have asked, "Is there a difference between closed captions and subtitles?" People often think there are no differences. Both display text on a video screen, but there is more to it. 

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In this blog post, we will break down the differences between closed captions vs subtitles. We will also talk about open captions and how they differ from closed captions.

Which transcription style should you use for your videos?

What are Captions?

Captions refer to any text on a screen. Some people will refer to captions as subtitles. Others will call them closed captions. Unfortunately, both closed captions and subtitles often get lumped together, almost like they are interchangeable. But they are not.

Here are some examples from big players like YouTube and Netflix. 

YouTube CC

YouTube shows the CC symbol, which stands for closed captioning. When you open the options, the category is called subtitles/CC.

YouTube-CC

YouTube's Closed Captioning Symbol

Within this category, they list the various available languages with captions, but that does not mean they are all proper closed captions. You don’t know until you watch the video. 

YouTube's Subtitles

YouTube's Subtitles/CC


Netflix Subtitles

Netflix is the opposite. They have a category of subtitles. When you open the Subtitles option, you will find a list of languages. Some of the languages listed have the CC symbol beside them. These will include proper closed captioning. 

Which way is correct?

Netflix's Subtitles/CC

Netflix's Subtitles/CC

What are Subtitles?

Subtitles are a transcription or translation of the dialogue. They assume the viewer can hear but not understand the language. Subtitles include translations for foreign films and television shows. 

People who are learning another language will also use subtitles to improve their comprehension. 

I use subtitles all the time. I am currently learning Swedish. When watching a show or movie in Swedish, I find the dialogue is too fast. Having Swedish subtitles helps me keep up to the conversations. I can also change the subtitles to English if I don’t understand certain words.


Many content viewers who are learning a language use subtitles this way. When it comes to watching video content in other languages, many people will choose subtitles to overdubbing.

Sometimes a character may have an accent that is hard to understand. In the movie Snatch, Brad Pitt's character spoke with a strong Irish accent that not many could understand. The director did this intentionally. With subtitles on, you actually can see what he said. Subtitles can benefit everyone. It is not always about translation.

Brad Pitt in Snatch

Brad Pitt in Snatch

Online streaming services are using subtitles more and more now. Services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Crave, and others, are bringing us television shows and movies from around the world in a large variety of languages. 

You can see that subtitles are more than just a translation of the audio into other languages. Subtitling helps bring content to a global audience.

Would you like to open your content to larger audiences?

Closed Captioning vs Open Captioning

There are two different types of captioning, closed captions and open captions. Let’s talk about the difference between the two. 

What are Closed Captions?

The closed caption definition is; a video with a transcription of the dialogue, along with an audio description of other sounds. Closed captions are primarily used by the Deaf and hard of hearing. Most news broadcasts nowadays are required by law to provide all their content in closed captioning. 

Having descriptive elements paints a picture for the viewer. For someone that is deaf or hard of hearing, long pauses or musical interludes can make these viewers think that the subtitles are not functioning.

Netflix's Closed Captioning

Netflix's Closed Captioning

In a video, when the music gets dramatic, a gunshot goes off, or someone is crying, these are the sounds that make the viewing experience better for those of us with hearing. 

Closed captions are there to provide a similar experience for the Deaf and hard of hearing. As a transcriber, if you can hear it, you should transcribe it.

Closed Caption Accuracy

Closed captions should be as accurate as possible, especially with dialogue. For the Deaf and hard of hearing, it is condescending, even insulting if captions or subtitles get shortened or edited. Especially when leaving out strong language. 

One big difference is that closed captions can be turned on or off by the viewer. 

For example, if a YouTube video has subtitles or closed captions available, you will see the CC icon on the bottom of the video player. This symbol means that viewers can turn them on or off and select any available languages.

YouTube-CC

YouTube's Closed Captioning Symbol

What are Open Captions?

Open captions are captions that are hardcoded or burned onto the video. As a viewer, you cannot turn them off. The captions or subtitles are the text overlaid on the video. They can be composed of subtitles or closed captions.

Tastemade's Open Captions on Facebook

Screenshot of Tastemade's Open Captions on Facebook

Platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, do not have the option to turn captions on or off. Open captions are becoming more popular for video content creators on Social Media. 

One study showed that 92% of mobile users watched videos with the sound off. One publisher said that 85% of its 30-second views on Facebook are without sound

That is astounding.

Hardcoding captions is very important for videos on these social media platforms. Video content creators know that if they don’t have open captions, they will receive fewer views. 

The disadvantage to open captions is that because they become burned onto the video, they are limited to one language. Video quality is another disadvantage. If the video becomes compromised (due to compression, internet speed issues) the open captions suffer in quality also. 

If you are looking for an SEO boost, then open captions will not benefit you.

Benefits of Captions

Whether you use closed captions, open captions or subtitles, they all provide benefits for you as a video content creator and your audience.

  • Your content is accessible for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
  • It provides a better experience for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Your audience grows because your content is more accessible.
  • Now more than ever, content is being consumed with the sound off. Captions get watched.
  • Providing subtitles in other languages opens your content to a global audience.
  • Closed Captions and subtitles can improve SEO. Google and other search engines can read the text. With captions, now they know what your content is all about.
  • When your audience sees captions, they tend to watch longer.
  • Captions improve the retention rate of content. See the study here.

Closed Captioning vs Subtitles: Which Should You Use?

Yes. Wait…what?! 

Start using either one on all your videos. Without subtitles or closed captions you are missing out on a large audience. Not only on the large percentage of people that watch videos with the sound off, more importantly, the 466 million people around the world with some form of hearing loss. 

If I were to choose: closed captions vs subtitles, closed captions are the clear winner. It is a far more enjoyable experience for the Deaf and hard of hearing. Even for people who aren't deaf or hard of hearing, closed captions can help them understand when people speak with an accent.

For those who are viewing subtitles for translation only, they would not be bothered by the occasional audio description. 

With closed captions, your videos gain two new audiences:

  •  The Deaf and hard of hearing community
  • Non-native speakers

The Foley Analogy

When you watch a movie, you take for granted the sounds in it. I am not talking about the dialogue. Every sound you hear: footsteps, a creaky door, hard rain, and even the wind. These sounds do not get recorded as the movie or television show gets filmed. Foley artists create these sounds afterwards. The videos we watch would seem to be lacking something without Foley.

Here is a video showing how much Foley adds to a scene. Put as much love into your videos with closed captions as these artists put into movies and television for you.

A video without closed captioning feels the same for the Deaf and hard of hearing audience. Without the description of the sound effects, music, and background noises, the video seems to be lacking something. 


By creating proper closed captions, you are creating a much better experience for that audience. They deserve it just as much as the hearing world deserves Foley. 

Interesting fact! 

The man who created the closed captioning symbol was Jack Foley. Yes, the very same man that invented the art of Foley. 

Why You Should Not Use YouTube's Auto-Captions

The Deaf and hard of hearing need closed captioning of your content but NOT auto-captions.

They refer to them as Craptions and with good reason. The speech-to-text algorithm that creates auto-captions struggles at times to understand slang, acronyms, and different accents.

Even for a video that I made, the speech to text algorithm understood Crowdscriber to be Crouch Burger

Craption in action

Craption in action

There is a hashtag out there from the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

#nomorecraptions

Transcribe your videos with closed captions. Don't rely on auto-captions. Join the movement! #nomorecraptions #deaf #hardofhearing 

Click to Tweet

YouTube’s auto-captions are notoriously bad. The punctuation and capitalization is missing, turning them into one huge run-on sentence. Also, how they scroll makes them very hard to read and follow.  

Crowdscriber allows you to import the auto-captions created by YouTube and edit them. Now you can take those Craptions and make them beautiful!

Crowdscriber’s software will make this process fast and easy for you.

Use This Free Closed Captioning Software for Better Captions

Using Crowdscriber's FREE closed captioning software will help you make your captions or subtitles so much faster.

Use auto-captions to get a head start. Then use our subtitle editing software to make sure they are accurate. Crowdscriber also allows you to leverage other people to help you transcribe videos faster.

Crowdscriber connects directly to your YouTube account, allowing you to access the videos on your channel instantly. With the click of a button, once you have finished transcribing, your captions/subtitles are published to YouTube. Learn more here.

Once you have finished transcribing the video, you can then download the SRT, VTT or text files. Use the provided files in any video editing software of your choice to create open captions.

Closed Captioning Services

When you don’t have time to make your own closed captions or subtitles, use our closed captioning service. You provide the content, and we will transcribe the video for you.

With Crowdscriber, you can connect your YouTube account, or provide the URL to the YouTube video you want to transcribe. It is so affordable you will be wondering why you didn't do this sooner.

Closed Captioning Guidelines

If you are going to add closed captioning to your videos, you need to follow a style guide. This way, your viewers benefit from consistency across all your content. 

Subscribe to Crowdscriber and we will send you a 27-page eBook Style Guide for Subtitles and Transcriptions. It has everything you need to create high quality closed captions and subtitles for your videos.

Included in the eBook:

  • Basic rules subtitling
  • Synchronization of subtitles
  • Multiple speakers
  • Numbers, dates and time
  • Emotion in speech
  • Difficult speech
  • Hesitation and interruption
  • Musical cues
  • Sound effects
  • Hardcoding subtitle guidelines

Get your 27-page eBook!

Style Guide for Captions, Subtitles and Transcriptions

Summary

Closed Captions

  • Benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing community
  • The viewer can turn the captions on or off
  • SEO benefits

Includes:

  • Dialogue
  • Music cues & lyrics
  • Background noises
  • Sound effects
  • Speaker attributions

Subtitles

  • Subtitles assume the viewer can hear
  • They only include dialogue
  • They are commonly used for translations into other languages
  • Do not include any description of other sounds, music, or speaker attributions
  • The viewer can turn the captions on or off
  • SEO benefits

Open Captions

  • Can include closed captions or subtitles
  • Captions or subtitles are burned or hardcoded onto the video
  • The viewer cannot turn them on or off
  • Great for social media sites like Facebook
  • Open captions do not benefit SEO
  • If video quality suffers, so do the open captions
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About the author 

Oliver

Oliver has been a content creator and market researcher with a passion for helping people understand and learn through his writing. He also writes for his own travel site Ačiū. He lives in Canada and was raised in a German household. Being bilingual has given him the opportunity to gain valuable experience in transcribing and translating videos and podcasts.

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