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What’s the Difference Between Subtitles and Closed Captions?

Most people tend to think that closed captions and subtitles are the same things. Yet this is not true. The benefits and use cases of closed captioning far outweigh that of subtitles.  While it’s true that they share some similarities in that they help people better understand the dialogue in a video, the reality is that closed captioning does this a lot better.

Key Differences between Subtitles and Closed Captioning

These two may be similar in function, but they have completely different purposes. Most people are confused by this, and that’s okay. We’ll help you understand how they’re different.

Subtitles are an alternative to sound, provided in the form of text on videos.  So, every dialogue or conversation on the video is transcribed into blocks of text. This usually covers the dialogue of the characters, actors doing voiceovers, narrators and so on.

Therefore, subtitles are created for people who can hear the audio sounds from the footage, but also need the text on the screen to enhance their viewing experience.

For instance, a non-hearing impaired English speaking audience watching a Spanish speaking movie would need subtitles translated to English to understand the movie. Without it, they wouldn’t enjoy the movie very much.  

Closed caption, however, do all the things that subtitles do, and some extras like highlighting phones ringing, cars starting, background and ambient noises, as well as other sounds in the video footage.

In essence, closed captions are like an upgraded version of subtitles. It provides a more immersive experience for the viewer. As a result, closed captions are great for viewers who cannot hear, and need to see the texts to fully understand what’s happening in the video.

So, if you were to compare the use case, subtitles improve the viewing experience of people who can hear, while closed captions improve the experience of those who can’t. This is why closed captions are more popular among people with hearing difficulties and problems. It’s also great for those videos with missing audio sounds.  

Key Tip for Using Closed Captions and Subtitles

Understanding the difference between the audiences is paramount when considering using either of these options. If an audience will be best served by subtitles, using closed captions will most likely annoy them and subtract from the overall viewing experience.

The same goes for using subtitles when you should be using closed captions. The key is in knowing the best scenarios for the two. At every point, communication and entertainment are largely about providing the audience with the appropriate experience.

So, if they’re not getting the experience they need, it will be less enjoyable for them, and you’ll end up alienating the bulk of your target audience. Both, however, are great for broadening your audience and increasing your reach.

An amazing Spanish movie with its Spanish is pretty restricted in its coverage. Courtesy of that, only the Spanish audience will enjoy it. But, if you want to improve the movie’s influence, and reach a wider audience –say an English audience, in this case, you’ll need to subtitle it in English.   

Now, if you want to further reach an English audience with hearing impairment, closed captions would be the best option. It’ll show that you run an all-inclusive show, and are particular about your audiences.

Having one or both of these options in your videos portray your brand as being more professional, and thoughtful of their audiences–something most videos need more of.

If you want a highly professional closed captioning done for your videos or events, visit today. Or call Alternative Communications Services on 800-335-0911.

 Alternative Communication Services, LLC


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