Open vs Closed Captioning: Making the Right Choice

Open vs Closed Captioning: Making the Right Choice
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy


Transcriptionists who deal with audio and video should become aware of "open" versus "closed" captioning. Open captioning is text on video that can be seen by all viewers, whereas closed captioning transcription can only be seen when the viewer activates the captions. Here are details to keep in mind when deciding between these two modes of video presentation.

Difference Between Subtitles and Captions

Many people may assume that captions are synonymous with subtitles. The difference, however, is that while subtitles on video accompany the audio, captions are more designed for the hearing impaired with the presumption that the viewer must rely on the visual for understanding the content. Subtitles are often used for transcribing foreign language or speech that is difficult to decipher.

Read Also: How Effective Is Podcast Captioning

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Best Instances to Use Open or Closed Captioning

Open captioning is quite useful in public places like an airport or a bar since loud noises can make hearing what’s going on nearly impossible. Another instance where open captioning might be useful is a corporate training video to be presented to your employees who suffer from hearing loss as a mark of courtesy to them since they may not be able to hear and discern the video presentation while watching the screen.

Having said the above, there are drawbacks to open captioning too. Open captions are extremely annoying distracting to some. to those who don’t like them. Open captioning is only included with video streams rather than as a separate text stream; therefore, in case of online and streaming movies, an entirely separate information for the transcript needs to be provided in order to get the text from the movie indexed in a search engine. It is, therefore, in situations such as these that you should choose closed captioning for the sake of reaching out to a wider audience and for proper indexing in searches while also giving the viewer the choice whether he or she wants to turn them on.

Open Captioning Advantages

  • Captions are embedded permanently in the video
  • Easier and more convenient to use
  • Unlike closed captioning, does not require special software for playback
  • More universal and appropriate for general public use
  • Text, if produced correctly, is already synchronized with the audio

Closed Captioning Advantages

  • Controlled by remote device or clicking a menu option
  • The text is stored in a separate file that can integrate with software
  • A viewer has the option of displaying or hiding text
  • It can be found more easily through YouTube searches
  • Timestamps can be added

Additional Considerations

Both open and closed captioning are used to help presenters tell their stories more effectively and to gain a clearer understanding of audio and visual media. Sometimes non-verbal communication is documented for the sake of clarity, such as how an audience responds to a meeting when the camera is directed only at the speaker. You may also want to identify background sounds such as music.

Once text is added to video, it can be further transcribed to documents. An emerging technology to explore for the hearing impaired is portable captioning.

Also Read: 4 Tips to Cut Costs on Closed Captioning Transcription

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Cofounder & President of GMR Transcription Services, Inc., a California-based company that has been providing accurate and fast transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed nearly ten years of success at GMR, playing a pivotal role in the company's growth. Under Beth's leadership, GMR Transcription doubled its sales within two years, earning recognition as one of the OC Business Journal's fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.