Open vs. Closed Captions: Understanding the Key Differences

The Difference Between Open and Closed Captions: A Comprehensive Guide for Content Creators

Captions are an essential element of video content. They provide viewers with an accessible way to consume videos, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Not only that, but captions improve the overall user experience and increase engagement by making content more enjoyable to watch. But with the two main types of captions in use today, open and closed captions, content creators may have a difficult time deciding which one to use for their videos. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the difference between open and closed captions, including their benefits, limitations, and how to use them effectively.

What Are Closed Captions?

Closed captions, also known as CC, are captions that can be turned on or off by the viewer. They are stored separately from the video content and can be activated by a button or through the settings menu on a device. Closed captions display the dialogue and sometimes other relevant audio cues like music or sound effects. They also include speaker identification, which helps viewers understand who is speaking.

Closed captions are created by a human or an automated speech recognition software that transcribes the spoken words. Closed captions must meet specific standards for readability and accuracy. For example, captions should appear at the bottom of the screen, be in sync with the audio, and be free of spelling and grammatical errors.

What Are Open Captions?

Open captions, also known as burned-in captions or hard-coded captions, are captions that are always present in the video itself. They cannot be turned off and are part of the visual content of the video. Open captions display the same information as closed captions, but they are always present.

Open captions are created using video editing software. The captions are burned into the video during the editing process, making them a permanent part of the video file. This means that open captions are always present, regardless of where the video is played.

Benefits of Closed Captions

The benefits of closed captions are varied and significant. Here are some of the most important benefits:

Accessibility: Closed captions provide people who are deaf or hard of hearing access to video content. They also allow non-native speakers to better understand spoken dialogue in a different language.

Improved User Experience: Closed captions improve the overall user experience. They make content easier to follow, more engaging, and more enjoyable to watch. Captioned videos also create better recall and retention of the material.

Legal Compliance: In some countries, including the United States, closed captions are required by law. Failure to provide closed captions can result in fines and lawsuits.

Benefits of Open Captions

Open captions also have their own unique benefits:

No Technical Requirements: Viewers do not need to activate closed captions because open captions are always present. This makes them a better option for people who may not be tech-savvy or are unfamiliar with the device’s settings.

Search Engine Optimization: Open captions can improve the SEO of your video content. Search engines can easily read the text, increasing the chances of your video content appearing in search results.

Visual Aids: Open captions can be designed to match the style and branding of the video content. This makes them a valuable visual aid that can help reinforce your brand. Open captions can also add emphasis to key parts of the video content, such as quotes or statistics.

Limitations of Closed Captions

While closed captions have many advantages, there are also some limitations. Here are a few of them:

Require Technical Knowledge: Closed captions rely on viewers activating them. If viewers are not familiar with the device or the caption settings, closed captions may not be accessible for them.

May Not be Compatible: Some video players or devices may not support closed captions. This means that some viewers may not be able to access closed captions, decreasing the overall accessibility of the content.

Caption Accuracy: Although closed captions are usually accurate, they can still have errors. This can occur when captions have not been reviewed or edited for accuracy.

Limitations of Open Captions

Similar to closed captions, open captions have their own limitations. Here are a few of them:

Cannot be Turned Off: Open captions are always present in the video, which means that viewers cannot turn them off. This can be an issue for some viewers who prefer not to have captions.

Editing Issues: Once open captions are burned into the video file, editing them is difficult. This can be an issue if you need to revise the captions or change the video content.

Decreased Flexibility: Because open captions are always present, they can limit the flexibility of the video content. This may be problematic if you want to use the video content for different purposes, such as marketing or promotional material.


Both open and closed captions have their own unique benefits and limitations. Choosing the right type of captions for your video content depends on your specific needs and goals. Overall, both types of captions are essential for creating accessible, engaging, and enjoyable video content. As a content creator, it is your responsibility to ensure that your video content is inclusive and accessible to all viewers. If you’re not sure which type of caption to use, consider using both open and closed captions to maximize the benefits of both.

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