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What Is Closed Captioning?

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

One of the most important parts of modern video is how the visuals synchronize with the audio. Creating a high-quality experience for both the visual and auditory senses is essential for a good video. Contrary to what many expect, the sonic experience of a video can be more critical to the overall quality than the visuals.

However, it’s much easier to communicate a visual effectively than a sound. Videos can almost always be seen regardless of the environment, but lots of noises can get in the way of a good audio experience. Since audio is such a huge part of today’s videos, that creates a huge problem.

Additionally, a large portion of the world’s population will either have a hard time hearing a video even in the best of circumstances or won’t understand the video's original language. While these may seem like insurmountable problems, they can be dealt with effectively thanks to closed captioning.

Here is how closed captioning can make your videos more accessible and change the game in terms of how people interact with your content.

What Is Closed Captioning?

Closed captions are text representations of the auditory parts of a video. They help in a large variety of situations when viewers can’t hear the audio, whether they are in a noisy environment, a place that must be kept quiet, or in any other situation where the audio must be muted. From restaurants to hospitals to department stores, closed captioning is helping people to more fully understand what is happening in a video.

In fact, closed captions are perhaps most important for content that’s distributed digitally or posted online, because so many people watch content silently, regardless of their setting. Many viewers will simply scroll through their news feed without ever enabling sound on their device.

Another benefit of closed captioning is that it helps those with hearing impairments better understand a video. Closed captioning was developed with that purpose in mind, so closed captioning must follow many standards. These ensure that closed captions contain all the information required to ensure that a video offers virtually the same experience, regardless of hearing.

Before video was digitized as it is today, it was intertwined directly into the video signal so that it could be decoded and displayed by almost any TV. In some cases, closed captioning is added in real-time. Now, closed captioning is digitally integrated alongside video, which can be added after the fact. Almost all video editing softwares include tools for creating high-quality closed captions to go with the visual portions of the video.

How To Create High Quality Closed Captions

When creating closed captions, there are a few important considerations regarding quality. Following these set standards will help ensure high-quality captions that meet or exceed the standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

At Least 99% Accurate

Captions need to be incredibly accurate to meet standards for quality in closed captioning. The creators of closed captions should aim for as few errors as possible to communicate what is happening as effectively as possible. Potential errors include grammatical errors, content errors, and other problems that communicate the wrong information to the viewers.

Maintaining a high level of accuracy will help your content be as professional as possible and ensure you don’t need to go back and fix errors over time.

Includes Speaker Labels

Closed captions must include speaker labels to meet the current FCC standards. These small labels appear at the beginning of the text to show the viewer who the speaker is every time something is said.

In the world of audio, unique voices are often all that is needed to distinguish who is speaking at any given time. However, in the world of closed captioning, it is critical to include speaker labels to avoid confusion about who is speaking.

Does Not Obstruct Important Video Content

By their very nature, closed captions take up a portion of the screen when they are displayed. While this isn’t always a major problem, captions sometimes cover up important information on the video itself. When creating captions that conform to the FCC’s standards, make sure that closed captions don’t cover up anything critical.

This sometimes means moving the captions away from their standard location in the lower part of the frame. However, it’s still vital, even if it initially feels awkward. Just remember—prioritize communicating all important information in the clearest and most professional way possible, and you should be fine.

The FCC has laid out other quality signifiers to look into and follow when creating closed captioning, as well, so ensure you’re following them.

What Are Open Captions?

Another kind of captioning commonly found in the world is open captioning. While there are several similarities between these two kinds of captions, you should be aware of some significant differences.

The most significant difference is how they are incorporated into the video. Open captions are always on and are burned into the video. When the video is made, the captions exist on every version and cannot be turned off.

Open captions are typically used when a video is designed for offline use or when the video is directed mainly at social media. If the video is intended for use when the video player won’t have captioning options, it’s best to use open captioning.

Closed captioning is used when the creator wants the captions to be able to be turned on and off. Closed captions are created into a separate file synchronized alongside the video in real-time. They work best in circumstances where the video will be online.

Online video hosting sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Vimeo support closed captions and use them as their standard captioning style.

What Are Subtitles?

Contrary to popular belief, closed captions and subtitles are not interchangeable.

Subtitles are typically used to translate spoken dialogue into a language that is not used in the original video. Often, subtitles are used with the expectation that the viewer will hear the audio in the film, even if they don't understand the language. Videos using subtitles retain the original audio, and the subtitles provide a translation in the desired language.

Closed captions assume that the viewer cannot hear any of the dialogue, so it includes non-speech audio information in the captions. The mentality provides more information than subtitles typically do.

Subtitles generally do not contain any information apart from the translated spoken words in the video. This stripped-back approach means subtitles generally follow less strict guidelines, but they still need to be accurate. Subtitles ensure that people worldwide can watch video content and appreciate it similarly to how native speakers of the original language consume it.

The US, UK, and many other countries use the terms “subtitles” and “closed captions” interchangeably, even though they technically have different definitions. However, it is fairly easy to distinguish between these two types of captions. Just look at how much detail is involved. If there is more detail about auditory content, the odds are good that it is closed or open captioning. If the captions only show the words themselves, subtitling is likely.

How Is Closed Captioning Different From SDH Subtitles?

Another kind of captioning is SDH subtitles, or “Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” These are a unique blend between closed captions and traditional subtitles.

SDH subtitles fill in the auditory content for those who can’t hear the audio. The main difference between SDH subtitles and closed captions is the format in which they are used and distributed. While closed captions were made for older analog technology formats, SDH subtitles are based on digital technology. They can generally be used with newer video formats. While many televisions today can process both formats, SDH subtitles were made specifically for digital technology.

SDH subtitles also require different kinds of standards and visual designs. For example, while closed captions are almost exclusively white text on a black background, SDH subtitles vary in appearance more. Closed captions shift around the screen to stay out of the way of video content, but SDH subtitles typically remain centered on the lower bottom third of the frame. Due to these characteristics, SDH subtitles are easier to translate and transpose into different formats and languages.

Many of the differences between closed captions and SDH subtitles come down to their formatting, but their content is relatively similar.

Benefits of Closed Captioning

Creating closed captions can be a fairly arduous process. It is tedious to do on your own, which is why many outsource captioning. So why would it be worth it to you to create closed captions for your videos?

There are many reasons to invest in high-quality, professional-level closed captioning. Here are some of the primary considerations when looking into closed captioning.

Increases Accessibility

The biggest benefit of creating closed captions is that they increase the size of the audience that you can appeal to. This can increase your payouts and viewership dramatically. Viewers who just don’t want to listen to a video, whether or not they’re in a public setting, will be more likely to engage, but it goes beyond that too.

Closed captions allow those with hearing impairments to enjoy your content and allow your videos to be played in commercial and international settings. If you are looking for new ways to reach out to more people, closed captioning is essential.

Tax Benefit Incentives

Tax credits can help cover the costs that go along with creating closed captioning for your videos. Small businesses especially can benefit from the tax credits that the government gives out when they intentionally make their videos more accessible to people with disabilities.

SEO Benefits

Closed captioning also helps video creators and companies through search engine optimization, or SEO. Because of how algorithms sort videos, videos with closed captions tend to have higher numbers in their view and retention rates. This can help websites rank higher, increase traffic, and boost their conversion rates, all because they added closed captioning to their videos.

SEO is a major factor when trying to expand your digital audience. Closed captioning is a fantastic way to get more people to watch your videos, and algorithms help make that happen even more effectively.

How 7 Wonders Can Help You

Here at 7 Wonders, we’ve worked on countless projects that require all sorts of different processes to transform a company’s idea into a completed video project or series. We’ve made sure to incorporate closed captioning into our list of services because we know it’s a powerful tool.

If you are looking for ways to take your visual and video presence in the world to the next level, don’t hesitate to reach out to 7 Wonders today—We know how to turn your dreams into reality.


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