So... what is closed captioning?

Closed captioning is the is the visual display (as text) of audio on media. This is the most common form of captioning and can be identified by the [CC] symbol. Closed captioning is often referred to as subtitles or subtitling, despite their distinctive differences. While subtitling involves translation into an alternate language, closed captions are in the same language as the original audio. Closed captioning is also in distinction to open captioning, in that it can be toggled on or off by users. Open captions are instead burned into the video - think English subtitles on a French film at the cinema! For those not in the know, captions are effectively the transcription of live or pre-recorded media - the little words that visually display dialogue on movies, television and more. 


Who uses closed captioning?

For people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing (HoH), closed captioning allows greater accessibility to content - be it on television, video, Facebook, YouTube or other media sources. Not too sure what these terms mean? Think of hearing loss as being on a spectrum; everyone is different and has a different type or degree of hearing loss. There are many different terms for deafness, and ultimately, each individual person has their own preferred term for how they identify themselves. If you're unsure about this, the best option is just to ask! There is often a communication barrier between people who are hearing and people who are deaf or HoH, but our differences shouldn't keep us from communicating effectively with each other. 

For those who are hearing, closed captioning still has its uses. They allow access where there is an impediment to sound, or where the sound may be muted. This could be a noisy bar, working out at the gym, while you're in bed, or perhaps on your morning commute on the train. There are some surprisingly funny situations where people use captions that you may never have even thought of! 

Put simply, closed captioning has benefits for everyone. There are some unexpected beneficiaries who may surprise you. For example, closed captions have been proven to increase language comprehension in children. That’s right, it’s time to flick on the captions for that latest Dora the Explorer episode!

Closed captions aren't just for TV!

The benefits of closed captioning aren't limited to the movies, or TV, or even Facebook. Beyond the more conventional experiences of closed captioning, there are numerous other applications. They can be used for social media, company websites, music, theatre, events, in the workplace, school, university and more. Captions provide people with access to information throughout all areas of their life. Look a little bit closer and you’ll find both the prevalence and functionality of closed captioning is on the rise, particularly in the workplace, education, and right across social media. There’s no excuse not to be including them!   


University captioning or closed captioning for other educational institutions provides critical access and improved literacy for deaf and hard of hearing people, but there’s also evidence about the positive impacts of captioning lecture content more broadly. Breaking this down, captioning can function as a tool for all students to improve their notetaking, revision and day-to-day study habits. Captioning in this area is usually done through CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) using a stenographer or respeaker (otherwise referred to as a voice writer).


Closed captions are a valuable resource for breaking down barriers at work. Workplace captioning works in a similar format to that of education. Meetings, events or functions are captioned and displayed to the group either via a shared screen or projector, or alternatively to the individual on devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets. Everyone in an organisation should feel like their participation is both possible and valued, and meetings are an important part of this. However, meetings can be very involved and fast-paced, and there’s several ways to make sure they are more accessible to your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues.

In the digital age, there’s an abundance of content available at the click of a button, but how accessible is it really? And are you making the most of your platform? If you're posting content to YouTube, Facebook, or even hosting your own webinar, there are a lot of reasons to use closed captions outside of the obvious benefit to deaf and hard of hearing persons, particularly if you're publishing content on Facebook, and you can do it free! 


How does closed captioning work?

Closed captions display not only spoken dialogue, but also denote sound effects and music. This may be a knock at the door or an ominous melody in the background that provides greater context to what is occurring. But how do viewers know who is saying what, and when? Well, you may have noticed captioners use colour changes or speaker tags to indicate who is talking. This is a particularly important feature when a character is off-screen, or for a change in speaker. It’s worth noting, a speaker change may also be represented by a dash. Different networks or clients have different standards, but these are a few common ones to keep an eye out for! For recorded programs, the timing of each caption (how long it stays on screen) is set to match that of the speaker, while allowing enough time for viewers to read and process the information.


In addition to this, closed captioners need to think about positioning, or where the captions are on-screen. Captions are shifted around to avoid obscuring speakers’ mouths, graphics and supers and anything else of importance for the viewer to see. There’s also the readability more broadly. Not all captions are created equal! There’s definitely a few tips and tricks worth considering that can make closed captions more reader-friendly for viewers.

How are closed captions made?

Closed captioning can either be done live (in real-time) or in a recorded (offline) format. Chances are, you thought it was all done by a computer, but captioning is a very human thing!


As outlined, there are a multitude of factors captioners need to think about at any one time. However, captioning live content adds another layer of difficulty. Unlike offline, live captioners don’t have the option to pause or rewind, which means keeping up with the speaker (or perhaps a panel of speakers!) and correcting any mistakes on the fly. So next time you’re watching something with live captions, spare a thought for the cognitive challenge of captioning!


The two main methods of captioning are stenocaptioning and respeaking. Say what? Let’s break down the captioning jargon a little further to understand exactly what each entails, and how they differ!


A respeaker listens to an audio feed from the TV show or live event and ‘re-speaks’ it, repeating what they hear into voice recognition software, complete with punctuation, grammar, and any number of formatting instructions. From there, their computer then ‘translates’ this into the text you see on screen. They are simultaneously thinking about positioning, colouring speakers and more. The ultimate goal is to make sure the captions are clear, accurate and accessible for the viewer, with as little delay as possible and without distracting too much from what’s happening on screen. Does that all sound hard to picture? Here’s what it looks like in action. 

Stenographers are trained to use a special shorthand keyboard to type out dialogue in real time, sometimes working at over 300 words per minute! With their specially-adapted keyboard, a stenocaptioner can spell out a whole syllable or word with a single keystroke. To do so, they have to remember the thousands of different key combinations required to produce the different words they have in their dictionaries (and then spit them all back out at lighting speed!). Like respeakers, stenocaptioners consider line positioning, speaker changes and more. While respeakers usually work in pairs, taking turns live captioning every 15 minutes, a stenocaptioner can go for over three hours by themselves. 

Captioners tend to be individuals with an excellent understanding of grammar, have great attention to detail, and work well under pressure. After all, anything can happen when you’re live! While it may not be the most conventional profession, it’s an endlessly interesting and rewarding one.


Where are closed captions used?

There are numerous applications for closed captioning, from the more conventional captions on the TV to the latest of Shakespearean production at the theatre. We’ve listed six places you’ll come across closed captions. While some examples are better suited to live captioning, utilising our remote captioning service, Ai-Live, others may be pre-recorded content, or even a mix of the two!


  1. On Television

Television is probably the most widely recognised usage of closed captions. According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), there are regulations around captioning requirements for commercial and national television services. Of particular importance, news and current affairs programming must be captioned on the main channels at all times. But you’ll also see closed captions a significant portion of entertainment and sports programs, like the Friday night footy! Streaming services such as Netflix and Stan aren’t exempt either, with specific captioning targets. However, programming left uncaptioned limits access and the potential audience. Quite simply, the more content that has closed captions, the better! 


  1. Social Media

Facebook is a social media juggernaut. There’s over 1.59 billion monthly active users, accumulating 8 billion video views on a daily basis. Social media usage on mobile devices is dominating usage on desktop computers, and a recent study by Facebook found that 80% of viewers react negatively when a video plays loudly unexpectedly. It could mean a jarring interruption to your morning tunes or a potential embarrassment if you’ve forgotten your headphones. There’s plenty of reasons why you should be adding captions to your Facebook videos, and many posters are taking the hint! The introduction of Facebook Live has meant a new way of distributing information to the masses. In partnership with Ai-Media, there is now the capacity to add captions to Facebook Live streams, further boosting the accessibility of this information. Video platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo are just a few other examples where you’ll see closed captions in action.


  1. At Work

Unfortunately, some employers assume that communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing is "too much trouble". This is often caused by a lack of information and ignorance. Closed captioning in the workplace help promote inclusion. Some areas where you may find closed captions used in a work setting are live captioning for meetings, conference calls and training sessions, or for pre-recorded content such as internal company videos on training, OH&S and the like. Depending on where you are located, there are various funding models to provide support to people with disabilities in employment. For example, in the UK there is Access to Work funding, whereas Australia uses the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).


  1. At University

Captioning services at university can make all the difference for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. If a student isn't able to hear what's being said in their lectures, they won't be able to learn effectively and therefore will have great difficulty in passing the course.  Further to that, institutions provide vast amounts of recorded content to students too, but there are ways to make these videos more inclusive. Closed captions allow more equitable access for students. Streamlining the process, Ai-Media has integration with Echo360. This means an automated workflow and easy delivery of closed captioning and transcription to universities and colleges.


  1. Events

There’s a lot of work that goes in to planning a conference, seminar or webinar, with many factors to take in to consideration to organise a successful event that makes your attendees leave feeling satisfied. One element of this is accessibility. Closed captioning of events are usually displayed on a screen to the entire audience. As well as improving accessibility, this adds value for all attending guests. Have you ever been sitting at a conference and turned to the person next to you for clarification of what has just been said? It can be easy to miss what someone has said, and captions give attendees a second chance or catch-up of the dialogue. 


  1. The Theatre

Next time you decide to go to the theatre, keep an eye out for the captioned performances! In addition to deaf or hard-of-hearing patrons, live captioning has many benefits to theatregoers – perhaps there is a performance where characters have strong accents or tricky dialects, there’s singing involved, or you missed a hard-to-hear line because you didn’t fork out for the more expensive tickets. The captioner is usually given the script beforehand, timing the captions to the performance. However, if the actors improvise, so too does the captioner go off-script and into live mode! Going to the theatre is a great cultural experience, and nobody should miss out.

What are common misconceptions about closed captions?

The biggest captioning myth is that all captions are made by a computer. We’ve already touched on the human side of captioning, but is there actually a robot out there making closed captions? Well, the reality is, computer-generated captions do exist! Unfortunately, however, they aren’t very good. When machines create captions, it’s called Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). YouTube provides auto-generated closed captions for videos uploaded to your channel. Certainly, this is a step in the right direction for global accessibility, however, they can be extremely inaccurate. While the wrong captions may seem pretty funny, they can actually make things confusing or even misleading for viewers who rely on them. But it’s not all bad, they do provide a good baseline and you can, in fact, edit the automatic captions on YouTube videos!

What’s the difference between closed and open captions?

Open captions are embedded or ‘burned-in’ to the video, which means they are seen by anyone who views it. They are essentially a permanent feature and, unlike closed captions, can’t be turned on and off. As mentioned previously, the most common use of open captions is in at the cinema. Interestingly, there are several other types of cinema captioning too! Other uses of open captions include clips using website video players which may not have closed captioning functionality.

A key advantage of open captioning is that the stylistic elements, such as font and size of captions, will display exactly as they are embedded. Basically, what you see is what you get! They don’t require any special functionality to display the captions, and you only need to keep track of the one individual file. A downside is that quality-wise, the caption quality is tied in with that of the video. That is to suggest, if a video is blurry or low-quality, the captions will also be blurry and may be difficult to read. 

Closed captions, however, remain a separate file to the video, and can be made available to suit a wide array of formats. This also makes them suitable for a range of media players. They are adaptable little things! Being a separate file, they can easily be edited or amended without having to re-encode to the clip. The captions can also be turned on an off by a viewer, depending on their wants and needs. However, the difficulty of closed captions is in the fact that the onus is on the viewer to understand how to turn them on and off.

Ultimately, despite their differences, both options make content accessible for your audience. However, closed captions have the obvious advantage of that the viewer is in control. 


How can I tell if something has closed captioning on it…and how do I turn them on?

Where content has closed captions available, it is usually indicated by the CC symbol. When unavailable, this icon will either be absent or greyed out. This is the case on both television programming, as well as video platforms like YouTube. Next time you’re cruising the internet or flicking channels, take a look at the corner of your screen! 

Determining whether a video has captions is one thing, however, turning them on is another. With no one standard, and a range of new and developing platforms, this can be a tricky process to navigate.  

For free-to-air television, this can usually be achieved by pressing the subtitle, CC, caption, or similar button on your remote. On many DVDs, the closed caption option must instead be selected from the menu before watching. Whereas for subscription services, captions are switched on either on the set top box or through the system settings. If you get stuck, try checking the provider website! For video platforms YouTube and Vimeo, it’s as simple as clicking the CC symbol on the toolbar.

With so much content viewable on your mobile, one of the most common questions we get asked is whether you can make closed captions always visible. Yes, this is possible, and all it requires is an easy tweak to your phone settings. You can also customize the way your captions and subtitles appear. 

What are different types of closed captioning files?

When it comes to captions, does one file fit all? There’s a range of file formats to provide closed captions, with various levels of compatibility and functionality. These include STL, SCC, CAP, WebVTT, SRT, and XML, to name a few. The main format used for closed caption files at Ai-Media is an SRT, or a ‘SubRip Subtitle’ file. This is one of the most common captioning file types, and is used due to its compatibility with a range of major platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Kaltura, and various lecture-capture programs. For broadcast content, the predominant file type used now is an EBU STL, or ‘Spruce Subtitle File’.


How do I add closed captions to my video?

Once you’ve written your captions, made sure they have perfect timing, impeccable grammar, and have your completed file, the final step is to add them to your video. But how do you upload the captions to your video?

For Facebook, it’s as simple as four easy steps.

  1. Create your video post on your Status Update bar.
  2. Select your video and click upload!
  3. Switch to the ‘Captions’ tab in this window and click ‘Upload SRT file’, selecting the associated file from your computer. Note: The naming convention here is important. For English closed captions, the name should be ''.
  4. Check the details and publish your video, complete with closed captions. 

The three largest video platforms - Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo – each follow a similar process, but not quite the same! Each process is worth investigating, so you can start uploading and making your content accessible to everyone.


Are closed captions just for those who are deaf and HoH?

Particularly in an education setting, there’s a wide range of students who benefit from closed captioning. Many tertiary students have a disability or learning difficulty, which may be invisible. At university, support for these students is widely available, if they request it.  In addition to deaf or HoH students, there are significant benefits relating to captioning for other students with disabilities. 

For those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), captions are able to assist in meeting the challenges they face at university. It may not be the content itself a person with ASD is having difficulties with, but instead with auditory processing. Closed captions could assist with this, as well as bring ease of understanding and focus to students with autism. Ai-Media’s live captioning can help support people with dyslexia, thanks to caption being available in the OpenDyslexic font; this specifically-designed font helps mitigate the effects of dyslexia.

For those for whom English as second language, closed captions are able to provide an enhanced understanding of the content. This is particularly integral at university, but also useful for learning the language more broadly. Through closed captioning, the viewer is able to derive meaning both from the words on the screen and by listening to the audio.


The other benefits of closed captioning

Videos without captions are like a concert pianist playing to an empty room. You've put all the hard work into creating an amazing video, but you're missing out on reaching your audience. Adding captions to your video is a way to unlock its real potential. While we’ve been through some of the major benefits of closed captioning, here’s three positives you may not have thought of. (Though, these certainly aren’t the only ones!)


  1. Creating Transcripts

As outlined, live captioning can be used to assist in the workplace, university, school, and during events. However, these captions can then be turned into a transcript for the user to keep and refer back to. This is multifunctional, but could be used as a record, for meeting minutes, handy study notes, and more! 


  1. Teacher Development

Following on from transcripts, the power of captioning can be applied as a tool for reflection! This occurs through Visible Classroom, a partnership with the University of Melbourne and Ai-Media. This teacher development program uses captioning and transcription to capture and analyse everything said by a teacher in their classroom.

  1. Better Business

Adding captions to your videos will improve Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Your videos will be more searchable on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. A search engine can't watch or listen to a video, but it can index text. This means that captioned videos will rank higher in searches, leading to more views and exposure for your content. Captions also mean you'll have a written version of your video. You can then use that to re-purpose the video into other content like a blog article or mail-out. You can save time and money!

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