Captions and Subtitles overlap in many ways but both of them have distinctive features. While both of them can be displayed as text on screen, the purpose of using them are different. Popular streaming companies who have set their own standards for Subtitles and Closed Captions generalize both of them under the same heading ‘’Subtitles’’ which may confuse users. But they are different, and the difference isn’t as subtle as they initially appear.
Captions generally can be classified into Open and Closed Captions. While Closed Captions can be turned on and off based on viewer preferences, open captions are embedded to the video and cannot be turned off. Subtitles, on the other hand are timed transcriptions of audio files developed even before the release of movies and/or a series.
Closed Captions are meant for people who are hard of hearing. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the FCC’s CVAA, and the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) mandates the use of captions for multimedia. These laws are applicable across education, entertainment, government, and businesses to prevent inequality. Closed Captions are also useful in letting viewers, especially the ones with hearing disabilities, follow the content by providing them every little piece of information of the soundtrack including background music, other noises and all author audio cues that needs to be described.
Subtitles help globalize content. They are developed to make video assets accessible to viewers who speak a different language. They act as a text alternative for the dialogues spoken on screen. Subtitles are more of translations where viewers can enjoy videos without understanding the spoken utterance of the content.
In essence, subtitles assume that the audience can hear the audio, while captions are primarily developed for those who need help to understand what is spoken on screen.
Despite the differences, both Captions and Subtitles engage more viewers. Videos with Captions and/or subtitles report an increase in viewership numbers by more than 80%.