Understanding the basics: closed captioning vs subtitles

Understanding the Basics: Closed Captioning vs. Subtitles

If you have ever wondered about the distinction between closed captioning and subtitles, then you are at the right place. While both serve as textual aids in conveying spoken words to viewers, their nuances distinguish one another. Closed captioning extends beyond mere dialogue translation, encompassing ambient sounds and speaker identification, making content accessible to individuals with hearing impairments. Subtitles, on the contrary, primarily focus on translating spoken language, breaking down language barriers, and facilitating a broader global audience.

Beyond the surface-level similarities, the distinctions between closed captioning and subtitles services carry profound implications for accessibility and global outreach. The meticulous inclusion of ambient sounds and speaker cues in closed captioning caters to the needs of people who are hard of hearing, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive viewing experience. On the other hand, subtitles, with their primary focus on linguistic translation, are a powerful tool for shredding down language barriers and fostering a truly global audience for multimedia content. Understanding these differences becomes pivotal in appreciating how these textual elements accommodate diverse needs and contribute to the universal language of storytelling that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Let’s understand how your brand can utilize its power in video marketing.

What are closed captioning and subtitling?

Closed Captioning:

Closed captioning is a textual representation of audio content in a video designed to enhance accessibility for individuals with hearing impairments. Unlike traditional subtitles that primarily focus on translating spoken words into written text, closed captioning includes additional information such as background noises, speaker identification, and other auditory elements. 

This comprehensive approach ensures that viewers with hearing disabilities can fully comprehend the audio aspects of the content, making it an inclusive tool for a diverse audience. Closed captioning is commonly denoted by the term “CC,” its implementation has become a standard practice in many forms of media to adhere to accessibility guidelines and regulations.


Subtitles, on the other hand, serve the purpose of translating spoken language into written text. The primary intent is to make the content accessible to individuals who may not understand the original language spoken in the video. 

Subtitles are valuable globally, allowing creators to reach audiences beyond linguistic barriers. Unlike closed captioning, subtitles may not include non-verbal auditory elements or speaker identification unless it directly impacts the understanding of the dialogue. They are usually positioned at the bottom of the screen and can be toggled on or off based on the viewer’s preference. They contribute significantly to making content more inclusive and expanding its reach to a diverse, international audience.

Differences in closed captioning and subtitles

There are several differences between captioning and subtitles. Understanding them can help you pick the best option.

  1. Inclusive Audience:

Closed Captioning: Primarily designed for individuals with hearing impairments, offering a comprehensive representation of all audible elements, including background noises and speaker identification.

Subtitles: Focused on translating spoken language for viewers who may need help understanding the original language, catering to a broader international audience.

  1. Content Detail:

Closed Captioning: A detailed account of all audible elements is provided, ensuring a comprehensive viewing experience for individuals with hearing disabilities.

Subtitles: Primarily translates spoken words, omitting non-verbal auditory elements unless they are crucial for understanding the dialogue.

  1. Accessibility Features:

Closed Captioning: Incorporates features beyond language translation, such as captions denoting music, laughter, or other relevant sounds.

Subtitles: Typically limited to the translation of spoken words, focusing on linguistic accessibility.

  1. Viewer Control:

Closed Captioning: Often allows viewers to customize the appearance, font, and size of captions, providing a personalized experience.

Subtitles: May offer some customization options, but the focus is primarily on translating spoken language.

  1. Use in Various Contexts:

Closed Captioning: Widely used in various forms of media, including television, movies, online videos, and live broadcasts, to comply with accessibility standards.

Subtitles: Commonly employed in films, TV shows, and online content to make content accessible to a global audience.

  1. Notation:

Closed Captioning: Indicated by the term “CC” (Closed Caption) and is often denoted by a small icon on the screen.

Subtitles: Typically marked by the term “Sub” or “Subtitles” and may or may not have a specific icon, depending on the platform.

Conclusion: Which is better for your brand?

The choice between closed captioning and subtitles for your brand ultimately hinges on your specific goals, target audience, and the nature of your content. If inclusivity and accessibility are paramount, particularly for individuals with hearing impairments, closed captioning proves indispensable. Its comprehensive representation of all audible elements ensures a universally accessible viewing experience, aligning with the principles of diversity and inclusivity.

On the other hand, if your brand seeks to expand its global reach and cater to an international audience, subtitles emerge as a powerful tool. With a focus on translating spoken language, subtitles break language barriers and make your content more accessible to viewers worldwide. 

In essence, the decision between closed captioning and subtitle services should be guided by your brand’s values, the nature of your content, and your commitment to providing an inclusive or globally accessible experience. Need help with that? Contact VerboLabs now for all your subtitling and closed captioning needs. After serving more than 1,000 happy brands, yours could be the next.

In the comments below, tell us how to reach a wider global audience.

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