Captions and Subtitles

by | Nov 30, 2020

While streaming your favorite series on Netflix or watching a YouTube video, you must have seen the text appearing on your screen describing the spoken content.

What is it called – Subtitle or Caption?

Did you know that they are not the same?

Let’s see what differentiates them.



Captions were introduced in early 1970s and are usually in the language that is the same as that of the spoken words.

By collecting all of the audio information, including not only the spoken words but also the non-speech elements like music, sound effects, emotions, location etc., captions aid the D/deaf or hard-of-hearing audience and make the content more accessible to them.

Captions are synchronized with the visual elements, meaning that they appear simultaneously as the event that they are describing.

The federal civil rights law (ADA), makes the captioning of all the public multimedia compulsory in order to avoid any discrimination against people with disabilities.

There are two main categories of captions:

  • Open captions—In the analog era of video production, OC or open captions were introduced. These type of captions were usually “burnt in” or embedded into the video such that viewer could not turn them off. That means all viewers would be stuck with them.
  • Closed captions—The digital evolution paved the way for CC or closed captions, which can be toggled on and off by the viewer. The majority of captions used today belong to this category.



As discussed above, while captions are in the same language as that of the spoken words in a video, subtitles are the translated content of spoken words.

That means when you are watching your favorite Spanish TV Series, “Money Heist,” on Netflix, the text appearing in English are called subtitles not captions.

The basic purpose of subtitles is not to aid the people with disabilities, but rather to help the viewer comprehend the content that is not in their local or native language.

Further, another major difference between the subtitles and captions is that the subtitles normally do not contain the description of non-speech elements, as previously described.

With major streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO releasing their content in multiple languages across multiple continents, the need for subtitles is now great more than ever before.

Not only do subtitles help the viewer understand the foreign content, but statistics have shown that they also play a major role in helping people learn a new language.



Surveys have shown that more than 80% of people feel more comfortable watching videos with captions.

Additionally, a viewer is more likely to watch captioned videos,  as captions not only make it easier for the audience to follow what is being said in the video, but also gives them the option to view content with audio muted.


Do you want to explore the mysterious link between captions and SEO of your video content?

Visit our article HERE



508 Accessible Videos – How to Caption Videos[online] Available at:  [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].





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