Every time you view a YouTube video or any video content, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll also see texts at the bottom of the screen. We call these displayed words “captions.” An open caption and closed caption aren’t new. They’ve been around since the 1970s to make TV shows more accessible to people with difficulty hearing.
Today, YouTube video creators rush to integrate captions in their content, whether a closed caption, an open caption, or a subtitle. But why? This ultimate guide to video captioning should give you the answers you need.
The Need for Captioning
Captioning is a necessary element of modern videos. However, it’s not a new idea. The first notion about adding captions to television shows blossomed in 1971, about 44 years after the world got its first television. The goal was to make TV shows more accessible to people with hearing difficulties.
We can only imagine how hard the hearing and the deaf strain to understand what they’re looking at in the boob tube. It would be like watching the silent films of the late 19th-century to the early 20th-century. You can appreciate the action, but you’ll have to create your dialogue and sound effects in your mind.
In 1972, the National Bureau of Standards and ABC presented the television captioning technology to scholars and industry leaders at Gallaudet University. It was a revolutionary technology, allowing people with hearing difficulties to appreciate TV shows as ordinary people do. Julia Child’s ”The French Chef” was the first TV show to feature captions.
By the turn of the 20th-century, captioning was now mandatory for television shows. It’s a laudable gesture. After all, the World Health Organization says that more than five percent of the world’s population (about 430 million people) are hearing-challenged. The organization also says 2.5 billion people will have hearing difficulties by 2050.
Besides compliance with a legal mandate, many content creators today also embrace captioning to engage their audiences “silently.” About four out of five (83%) US viewers watch content with muted audio. They are also more likely to watch the video until the end if captions are present.
Unsurprisingly, people would watch videos without audio. There are many situations where playing the video on full blast is unnecessary and frowned upon.
For example, watching a video with the sound turned to the highest level will annoy fellow passengers on a plane. Rocking your baby to sleep will be next to impossible if you crank up the video’s volume. Viewing content in a library with the sound on can disturb the reading of other users, making them lose focus and venting their ire at you.
Cranking up the volume doesn’t work in noisy places, either. Construction sites, theme parks, and similar venues have noise levels that can drown a video’s audio. Sure, you can plug in your headphones, but you’d have to carry these gadgets.
Captions also boost learning. A University of South Florida study revealed that 99% of students find captions advantageous in helping them learn a topic presented in a video format. It can also improve reading skills and comprehension, especially among non-native English speakers.
Companies are also leveraging captions in their video content. Adding captions to videos allows businesses to embed results-driven keywords into their content, increasing their chances of landing at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). After all, search bots don’t index video content. They crawl the internet looking for “magic words” that people search for and rank them in SERPs.
If you have a company, adding captions to your videos can improve your search engine optimization (SEO) activities and generate more leads to convert into sales. That’s how you grow your business.
Federal Guidelines for Captioning
The Federal Communications Commission provides guidelines for captioners, allowing them to format and style a closed or open caption uniformly. If you’re adding captions to your videos, it would be best to adhere to the FCC captioning requirements. The following “rules” are some of the most crucial you must know.
· Captions must include all audio information in a video, including words spoken by a narrator, characters, and songs. It also includes identifiers for speakers off-screen and descriptions of audio events that impact the video meaning or story. Captioners must exclude words or sound effects in fast-paced videos because of impracticality. The caption must also not include information already present on the video screen.
· Captioners can remove non-essential information to maintain reading pace.
· Each line in a closed or open caption must not exceed 37 characters long, with a maximum of two lines.
· The reading pace should not exceed three words per second or 180 words per minute.
· Each sentence must stay on-screen for at least two seconds.
Captioning vs. Subtitles
Some of us use captions and subtitles interchangeably. In some parts of the world, people only refer to the text they see on their video screens as “subtitles.” It’s crucial to know the difference between these two concepts.
Captions – be it a closed or open caption – assume the viewer has hearing difficulties or cannot hear altogether. Video content creators synchronize their captions to the video’s audio content, including noises and other non-speech-related elements.
On the other hand, subtitles assume the viewer doesn’t understand the language in which the on-screen text is written.
For example, a video with English audio might have a Japanese, Spanish, or Chinese subtitle. Moreover, the subtitle doesn’t include non-essential audio information, such as speaker identifications and external noise.
There is a sub-type of subtitling known as “subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing” or SDH. This subtitle type is similar to captioning because it includes non-essential audio elements. Unsurprisingly, this leads people to believe that captioning and subtitling are the same.
Hence, subtitles are not appropriate for people with hearing impairment because the on-screen text might not be in their language. Suppose you have hearing difficulty and are watching an English video with Chinese subtitles. Would you understand the video?
On the other hand, we’re confident you’d appreciate the content if the video had an open caption or a closed caption.
It’s worth pointing out that captioning focuses more on making the video content more accessible and coherent to people with hearing difficulties and viewers in situations where they can’t use their device’s audio.
By contrast, subtitles emphasize accessibility and understanding for viewers with a language different from the video’s original linguistics.
Closed vs. Open Captioning
You now know that captioning is different from subtitling. But how about an open caption versus a closed caption? How different are they?
Captioning focuses on people with hearing difficulties. Does this mean you cannot view the video if you can hear well? That is where closed and open captioning comes in.
Videos with closed captions allow viewers to turn on or off the on-screen texts. They can choose when to display the captions.
For example, people in a library might want to turn on closed captions to understand and appreciate the video while muting their smartphone or tablet. Of course, they can toggle the closed captions off if they have headphones or similar listening devices.
Additionally, watching your favorite show on your device while on an airplane or other public conveyance might require turning on the video’s closed caption feature. You don’t want to disturb your snoring seatmate or annoy the already-stressed fellow passenger.
It’s worth mentioning that closed captions promote the freedom of choice. You can decide how to enjoy the best viewing experience.
If a closed caption gives you freedom of choice, an open caption doesn’t. The content creator embeds audio-synchronized text information in the video file, making it impossible to manipulate (read turn on or off). On the other hand, content creators of closed caption videos include a separate text file, which developers call a “sidecar file.”
You might think it’s absurd to limit your control over your viewing experiences. However, it’s wise to recognize that some video platforms don’t allow closed captioning. Offline videos can also rob you of your chance to toggle the closed captions feature in your device, making it challenging to understand the content.
Benefits of Open Captions and When to Use It
While it might be true that an open caption impedes your ability to choose, it has several advantages. Let’s look at these benefits to understand what open captioning brings to viewers and creators.
· Playability across different devices and video players
You can play a video with open captions on any video platform, player, and device because the text information is “burned” into the video file. Remember, closed captions come in a separate “ride-on” file that content creators upload with their videos. Hence, developers create two discrete files – video and text – for closed captioning to work.
Unfortunately, not all video platforms and players have a provision for closed captioning. They cannot accept two files, making open captions the best solution.
For example, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram only allow users to upload a single video content file. You cannot upload your video now and add a sidecar closed caption later. You’d be annoyed watching the video if it doesn’t have a caption, especially if you cannot hear the audio well.
Meanwhile, Facebook automatically plays its videos on silent. A Facebook video with an open caption minimizes the tendency of viewers to scroll past the content because they’ll see the captions instantly, capturing their attention.
The social media giant affirms that open captioning increases video view time by 12%. This observation isn’t exclusive to Facebook because other social media platforms with auto-play viewing algorithms have the same experience.
Did you know that open captioning is also perfect for offline viewing? You don’t need internet access to “read” the text file from a separate location because it’s already in the video file. You’ll never misunderstand a video again.
So, if you’re a content creator who wants to make your video accessible to all, you’d need to use open captioning instead of closed captioning.
· Improves video accessibility
We know that open captioning allows people to view any video on any device, platform, and video player. However, we didn’t mention that open captioning also makes videos more accessible to everyone.
Although more than 7.26 billion people have smartphones, not everyone is familiar with all of these devices’ features. Some don’t know that YouTube and other video platforms have integrated tools to make their viewing experiences more pleasant. Some of them also don’t know how to toggle a closed caption feature.
In some instances, people might be too busy with other things that they couldn’t activate the captioning feature. Having an open caption lets people view the video and read the text simultaneously without manipulating anything else. It frees their hands to do other things, making videos more accessible.
· Eliminate inconsistencies in video playing
Another issue open captioning addresses is video playing inconsistencies. It’s never a problem for videos with open captions because the text is an integral, non-discrete element of the video file. Hence, you can play the video on VideoLAN, GOM Player, MusicBee, VLC, and other platforms without losing on-screen text accuracy and styling.
On the other hand, closed captions are prone to inconsistencies because video players must handle the two discrete files – video and closed caption.
Unfortunately, not all video players have algorithms that guarantee seamless simultaneous playing of the two files. In some cases, you’ll see a video with closed captions going ahead or lagging behind the audio. It makes viewing annoying.
It’s not an issue if you use the same video player or platform for watching content. Unfortunately, that only limits what you can view, making open captions a better choice.
· Improved control over caption style, color, and size
One issue with closed captions is that you’re at the mercy of automated captioning algorithms and similar “rules.” For example, you cannot use a font type, color, and size different from the recommendation. It limits the content creator’s creativity.
On the other hand, open captions allow content creators to determine how the text appears before embedding it into the video. The text color, size, and type become permanent video elements people and machines cannot alter.
· Simplifies physical media creation
Downloading videos and burning them into DVDs and other physical media are fun. You get to enjoy films and other video content on the go. Unfortunately, if the video doesn’t have an open caption, viewing might be less pleasant because it doesn’t contain the video’s on-screen text.
Benefits of Closed Captions and When to Use It
It’s easy to determine the advantages of closed captions if you know the benefits of open captioning. After all, these concepts are diametrical opposites. It would be unwise to think that they share an advantage. Here’s a look at two of the essential benefits of using closed captions in videos.
· Better control of the viewing experience
The most crucial advantage of closed captioning over open captioning is the sense of freedom it gives viewers. Let’s face it. Most, if not all of us, want complete control over our lives, including how we watch videos.
Although an open caption promotes video accessibility, it doesn’t allow for control of the viewing experience. Some of us find the on-screen texts annoying because they obscure the full view. There might be details in the scene we cannot see because of the texts covering them.
Many people find the texts distracting because they change with the character’s lines. Your eyes would most likely wander between the on-screen texts and the scene.
Fortunately, closed captioning allows you to turn off the feature, ensuring a more pleasant viewing experience. You can always toggle it back on if the need arises. For example, you want to watch your favorite YouTube video without your mom knowing. You can lower the volume, turn on the closed captions, and have a splendid time.
· Easier to create captions
Closed captioning is a breeze to create and upload to a suitable video platform. You can transcribe the video yourself, use an automated transcription feature, or hire a professional to do it for you. You can then upload the transcription to your video and leave everything else to the video platform to synchronize everything.
On the other hand, embedding an open caption into the video file requires hard work and patience. Content creators can spend hundreds of hours “burning” text into their video files to ensure perfect synchronicity between the audio and captions.
Most content creators hire a professional service to embed open captions in their videos. It might be pricey, but it’s worth it.
Captions are essential elements of modern videos because they promote content accessibility, ensuring everyone can watch and understand the video. A video with an open caption is more accessible than one with a closed caption. It works with almost all video players and platforms, ensuring consistency across devices. Unfortunately, embedding open captions into videos can be tricky.
On the other hand, if your goal is to give your audience complete control over their viewing experience, closed captioning is the way to go. Although it is easy to execute, some people might not be able to play the closed captions on some video platforms.
If you’re unsure where to start or how to make captioning more effective, we can help. We provide one of the best video captioning services that will help you engage your audiences better, rank higher in SERPs, and drive your digital marketing efforts.