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Captions vs Subtitles; understand the differences and their importance

Videos have become an essential part of our online experience, but it's important to ensure they are accessible to all users.

1 in 5 people in the UK have some degree of hearing loss. That means that if you don't caption your videos, you are excluding 1 in 5 people nationally, and 466 million people in the world, from watching it.⁠ ⁠Also, 80% of social users watch videos with the sound off.

Closed captions and subtitles play a significant role in making videos inclusive for those with hearing loss. In this article, we will explore the differences between closed captions and subtitles, understand their importance, and learn how they can enhance the viewing experience for a broader audience.

Why Closed Captions and Subtitles are important?

  • They provide accessibility to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. By including captions or subtitles, you ensure that these viewers can fully engage with your content and understand the dialogue, narration, and audio cues.

  • Closed captions and subtitles enhance the overall user experience for all viewers, especially in noisy environments or when watching videos in a language viewers don't understand.

  • They promote inclusivity, diversity, and equal access to information and entertainment regardless of the hearing abilities or language proficiency.

  • In some regions, providing closed captions or subtitles is legally mandated to ensure equal accessibility. Adhering to these regulations showcases a commitment to inclusivity.

Differences between Closed Captions and Subtitles

Closed captions and subtitles are text versions of the audio content in videos. While they serve a similar purpose, there are some key distinctions between the two:

Closed captions are specifically designed for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. They not only include dialogue but also describe other relevant audio elements such as sound effects, background noises, and speaker identification.

They are usually positioned at the bottom of the video screen, synchronised with the corresponding audio. They can be turned on or off by simply pressing a button on the screen or remote, hence the term "closed."

Subtitles, on the other hand, primarily focus on translating dialogue for viewers who don't understand the video's original language. They are typically positioned at the centre or bottom of the screen and are always visible, as they serve the purpose of translation rather than accessibility.

Let's take a look at some examples:

Closed Captions Example:

Video Dialogue:

[Character 1]: Hey, did you hear that?
[Character 2]: No, I didn't. What was it?
[Character 1]: It sounded like thunder. We should go inside.

Closed Captions:

[Character 1]: Hey, did you hear that?
[Character 2]: No, I didn't. What was it?
[Character 1]: [Thunder rumbling] It sounded like thunder. We should go inside.

In this example, the closed captions not only transcribe the dialogue but also include additional information about the thunder sound to provide a complete understanding of the scene for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Subtitles Example:

Video Dialogue (English):

[Character 1]: Bonjour! Comment ça va?
[Character 2]: Très bien, merci. Et toi?
[Character 1]: Ça va bien aussi. Qu'as-tu fait aujourd'hui?

Subtitles (Translated to English):

[Character 1]: Hello! How are you?
[Character 2]: Very well, thank you. And you?
[Character 1]: I'm doing well too. What did you do today?

In this example, the subtitles provide a translation of the dialogue from French to English, allowing viewers who don't understand the original language to follow the conversation and engage with the video.


Closed captions and subtitles are crucial for making videos accessible and enhancing user experiences. By understanding their differences and following best practices, you ensure that the message reaches a wider audience, improves user engagement, and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.

Remember to utilise available tools and technologies to simplify the process and maximise the impact of your video content.


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