The difference between Open and Closed Captions
2 min Reading time

The difference between Open and Closed Captions

When you read something about subtitle types, people often mention open and closed captions. But what do these terms actually mean? What can you do with them? Should you even care? We explain the distinction between the two and more in this blog.

What is open captioning?

Open captioning is the display of what is being said at the bottom of the screen. Usually in white lettering and in a maximum of two lines. Open subtitles are permanently visible as the viewer does not have to turn them on. An example of open captions would be the text displayed at the bottom of the screen when at the movies.

What is closed captioning?

Closed captions are subtitles that are primarily intended for the deaf and hard of hearing. These closed captions are indicated by the universally recognized “CC” symbol. As a viewer, you can choose to turn these closed captions on or off. With closed captions, the reading speed is faster than with open captions.

Research has shown that the target audience (mostly the deaf and hard of hearing) prefer an increased reading speed as in this way more text can be displayed simultaneously. 

Closed captioning also often requires more text. The aforementioned target audience does not receive the extra information that hearing viewers pick up through audio. Case in point, with open captioning, simple answers like “yes” and “no” are usually omitted, because the viewer hears and understands them. On the other hand, with closed captioning, sounds such as a telephone ringing or a knock on a door should also be included in the description. 

When should you use open or closed captions

Open subtitles should be used if the option to turn subtitles on or off is not available. For example, some online hosting services do not offer subtitling, making it necessary to add subtitles by default. In fact, subtitles are also increasingly becoming a must for videos that are posted on social media. Research has shown that 85% of all videos are watched without sound. Thereby making subtitles an invaluable addition to video content in general.

The difference between open and closed captions

Closed captions were initially created for the deaf and hard of hearing to assist with comprehension and immersion. Additionally, they can also be used as a tool by those learning to read, learning to speak a non-native language, or in an environment where the audio is difficult to hear or is intentionally muted. Closed captions can also be used by viewers who simply wish to read a clear transcript along with the program audio. 

In summary, it is the availability of choice that is the major difference between open and closed captioning. Considering such a large portion of viewers prefer to customize their viewing experience, you’ll mostly want to use closed captioning whenever you can.