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What is Closed Captioning? Everything You Need to Know is Here

Closed captions were first demoed in the United States during the First National Conference on Television for the Hearing Impaired in 1971. Later, they were successfully introduced and broadcast widely in 1980, with real-time captioning launching in 1982. Today, there are many more types of closed captioning options available.

Unfortunately, knowing where to start with the many kinds of captions available for video production can be challenging. Should you use open captions or closed captions? What kind of closed captions are best for viewers, and what are the benefits of closed captions for both your audience and your video SEO?

Today, we’re sharing everything you need to know about closed captioning, its many benefits, and how you can efficiently add closed captions to videos.

What is closed captioning?

Closed captioning is the process of showing a text version of the spoken parts of a video. For example, closed captions would include the text spoken during the dialogue in a movie or the presentation audio during a computer presentation. Closed captions do not include notes about audio cues, music, or background music and assume that the audience can hear these sound cues. Open captioning was later developed to include text captions about the sound effects and music, making it an even more accessible option.

Closed captions were initially developed to make video content more accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf. However, it’s widely used by people learning the language, people in noisy environments, and people learning to read.

Types of Closed Captions

Pop-on captions

As the name suggests, pop-on captions pop on your video screen as the audio is spoken, then disappear in time for the following captions to pop on screen. These are the most common type of closed captions and are created for prerecorded broadcast, web, and streaming content.

Pop-on captions are never used for live broadcast content because each word is written on-screen needs to be immediately processed by an encoder, which requires all text and audio information before they can post the caption. As a result, pop-on captions would be delayed if they were used live, which would be a disservice to the viewer watching the program live.

Ideally, editors should use pop-on captions for prerecorded content. They are versatile and easy to customize and synchronize to the speaker’s timing, creating an incredible viewing experience.

Roll-up captions

Roll-up captions constantly roll onto your video screen, one following the other, creating more time for viewers to read the captions than other caption options. The top line of the roll-up captions will disappear every time a new caption rolls on screen. 

Typically, live programming uses roll-up captions because the longer screen time allows the dialogue to be synchronized in real-time. Each sentence appears quickly but remains longer on screen than pop-up captions would. They also require less load time.

Paint-on captions

Paint-on captions are stylized closed captions that populate letter by letter on the video screen. This animation gives the effect that the captions are being typed or painted on while you’re reading. However, the animation happens rapidly, so it’s largely unnoticeable unless your entire video is captioned in this style. 

Typically, editors will use paint-on captions for a prerecorded program as a stylish opening. They aren’t generally used for an entire, long-form video because they demand higher load-time requirements and can have a slight delay compared to pop-on captions. Generally, paint-on captions are considered outside the industry standard and are only used for a stylistic, fast-paced program with short speech patterns.

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Benefits of Captioning

1. Accessibility

The most crucial benefit of captioning is accessibility to those that are hard of hearing or deaf. It’s estimated that 48 million Americans struggle with hearing loss. Without closed captions, these Americans cannot watch your video content, losing valuable audience members in the process.

2. Video SEO

Adding transcripts to your videos can boost SEO by giving search engines a way to examine the entire text of your audio or video clip. Providing search engines with specific information from your video makes it easier for them to properly index your video, allowing it to show up in organic search results better.

3. Better watch time

Studies have shown that videos that add captions or subtitles increase view time by up to 12%, which is a significant improvement in watch time, especially considering the small time commitment it takes to create and add captions.

4. Legally complaint

Depending on where you live and where your content is published, you may be legally required to provide accurate closed captions on your videos, even those released on the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission strictly regulates the closed captioning requirements in the United States, and organizations have been sued in the past for not adhering to these standards. Avoid legal trouble altogether by including accurate closed captions on all your video content.

5. Improved viewer comprehension

Reading closed captions while listening to the video can be a helpful learning aid to reinforce the information presented. A national study by Oregon State University found that 52% of students improved comprehension through captions. The most commonly reported reason students use captions is as a focus aid, which is must-know information for anyone trying to improve their audience’s information retention.

6. Flexible viewing options

Many viewers watch videos in places where they cannot listen to the audio, such as on the bus or in a noisy office, so closed captions allow them to mute your video but still understand your content. It’s reported that 85% of Facebook videos are played without sound, so you miss out on a valuable demographic if you don’t have captions available.

7. Improved video search

Interactive transcripts allow viewers to search your video for specific keywords and jump to the specific spot in your video when a topic is being discussed. Captions can boost viewer experience and satisfaction with their video as they can immediately reap value from your video rather than wait for the information they want.

Closed Caption Formats

File Format Use Case Compatibility
SRT or .srt file Most widely accepted caption format YouTube, Facebook, Flowplayer, MediaCore, VLC, Vidyard, Camtasia, Kaltura, Mediasite, & more
Realtext, RT, .rt file Streams quickly; Uses minimal bandwidth; Timed text file for RealMedia RealOne Player, RealPlayer
Subviewer, SBV, SUB Most similar to SRT; Basic YouTube file format; Doesn’t recognize style effects YouTube
WebVTT, .vtt Ideal for cloud-based videos, video management services, and HTML5 media players; Offers many style options, including audio description, text positioning, formatting, and rendering YouTube, Vimeo, MediaCore, JW Player, MediaPlatform, & More
DFXP, .dfxp Not CVAA compliant, which limits its use significantly online;Timed text file YouTube, Panopto, Limelight, Ooyala, Adobe Flash, Flowplayer, Kaltura, MediaSpace, & more

How to Add Closed Captions to Videos?

Before adding closed captions to your videos, you’ll need to create a transcript of the audio. Creating a transcript yourself can be a tedious, frustrating process, from having to go over your audio file multiple times while typing to correcting punctuation and inaccuracies in your transcript.

We recommend using Notta, a speech-to-text online converter that can quickly transcribe your video to skip the frustration of creating the transcript yourself. After creating a transcript using Notta, choose one of the following methods to add closed captions to your video.

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Methods to add closed captions to a video:

1. Upload as a “sidecar” file

If you’re uploading your video to YouTube or another social media platform, consider uploading your closed captions as a “sidecar” file. Take your transcript, usually in a .SRT file format, and upload it alongside your video. Most websites will allow you to review your closed captions before publishing the video, allowing you to check the timing and accuracy of your captions.

2. Caption encoding

Caption encoding is a more direct approach to adding closing captioning. Instead of uploading the closed captions separately, the captions are embedded into the video and uploaded as one single asset to the platform. This option is perfect for video streaming services, like Netflix, or video players, like QuickTime, that allow users to download the videos to watch offline. The captions will still be available offline because they are directly “burned” into the video, unlike captions uploaded to the platform. 

Caption encoding can be done by third-party software, such as 3Play Media. Simply upload your transcript to the website with your video, then select caption encoding for your captions to be “burned” into the video file.  

3. Use an integration or API workflow

If you publish videos frequently and want to cut down on your workflow, we strongly recommend you consider an integration or API workflow. This process is similar to uploading a “sidecar” file, but third-party software automatically creates and uploads the captions to your video. All you need to do is log in to the video platform, upload your video, then notify or tag the software to your video upload. From there, the software creates captions and posts them on your video, saving you the hassle of creating the transcript, timing it, and uploading it. The downside to this method is that it is more expensive since you are outsourcing the entire process.

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FAQs about Closed Captioning

1. What is the difference between open captions and closed captions?

The difference between open captions and closed captions is that open captions are a permanent part of the video and cannot be turned off. Open captions also have the advantage of being playable on all devices and video players and give publishers control over the size and style of the captions. In contrast, closed captions can be inconsistent across different platforms and need special devices, decoders, to be played on certain video devices.  

2. What is the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

The difference between closed captions and subtitles comes down to the intended audience. Closed captions provide both dialogue and other important parts of the video’s soundtrack, such as audio cues, description of music, background noises, and the phone ringing. In contrast, subtitles are created for an audience that can hear the audio but may need additional information provided in text form, typically the dialogue. Often, subtitles are used to translate a film into a foreign language. The audience can still hear the music, background noises, and audio cues but relies on the subtitles for the translated dialogue. In contrast, closed captions are created for an audience that cannot hear or has impaired hearing.

3. What is captioning accuracy?

Captioning accuracy is an accuracy rate of 99% or more to ensure that people who are hard of hearing or deaf can fully understand and access the video content. Currently, many video platforms like YouTube offer automatic captions. However, their accuracy is usually only about 60 to 70%, leaving hard-of-hearing people with inaccurate, messy captions. Using software for closed captioning can significantly improve your captioning accuracy and help you avoid excluding groups of people who rely on accurate closed captions to consume content.

4. What is the most used software for closed captioning?

The most used software for closed captioning includes Rev, Notta, and GoTranscript. All three of these software programs provide accurate transcriptions for video content.

5. What percentage of people use closed captions?

The percentage of people who use closed captions always or often