What Are Subtitles and Closed Captions?

Subtitles vs. Closed Captions: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever watched a movie or TV show on a streaming platform, chances are you’ve seen subtitles or closed captions. But what do those terms actually mean, and what’s the difference between them? As a content creator, it’s important to understand the function and benefits of both subtitles and closed captions to reach a wider audience. Let’s dive in.

What are Subtitles?

Subtitles are translations of the spoken language in a video or film. They typically appear at the bottom of the screen and are designed for people who speak a different language than the original audio. Subtitles can be either burned-in, which means they are a permanent fixture on the video, or soft-coded, which means they can be turned on and off by the viewer.

Subtitles are usually used for foreign language films or TV shows, but they can also serve other purposes. For example, they can help viewers who are hard of hearing or deaf to understand the audio. Subtitles are also useful for people who want to watch a video without sound, such as in a public space or late at night.

What are Closed Captions?

Closed captions are different from subtitles in that they include not only the spoken dialogue, but also non-speech elements such as sound effects, music, and on-screen text. This feature makes them ideal for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as viewers who are watching a video in a noisy environment or need to keep the sound turned off.

Closed captions are also useful for non-native speakers who may need additional help understanding the spoken language. They can be turned on or off by the viewer and are more commonly used in television programs and online videos.

Accessibility Benefits of Closed Captions

As a content creator, it’s important to take into account the accessibility needs of your audience. Closed captions can make a huge difference in the lives of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. By adding captions to your videos, you’re making them accessible to a wider audience and promoting inclusivity.

In addition, adding captions can also improve your SEO. Search engines can’t crawl audio or video content, so adding captions to your videos can make it easier for search engines to find and index the content. This can lead to higher visibility on search engine results pages and more traffic to your website.

Creating Subtitles and Closed Captions

Creating subtitles and closed captions can be a complex process, but there are several tools and services available that can make it easier. For example, YouTube has an automatic captioning tool that uses speech recognition technology to generate captions. However, these captions are not always accurate and may need to be edited manually.

A more reliable option is to hire a professional captioning service. These services use trained captioners who transcribe the audio and add captions to the video. While this can be more expensive than automatic captioning, the accuracy and quality of the captions is much higher.


Subtitles and closed captions are both important tools for reaching a wider audience and making your content accessible to all. While subtitles are translations of the spoken language, closed captions include additional non-speech elements. As a content creator, considering accessibility needs is crucial and by adding captions you not only ensure your content is accessible for everyone but also increase the visibility of your content. Whatever method you choose, adding either subtitles or closed captions is a big step toward making your content inclusive and accessible to all.

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