Closed captioning vs subtitles: 3 differences you must know

Do you know what closed captioning and subtitles are? Although both are audio texts, they have characteristics that differentiate them.

Knowing these characteristics will allow you to know when it is more appropriate to use each one.

Read this post and learn the differences between closed captioning and subtitles, so you can reach more and better your audiences.

Captions and subtitles: differences between closed captions and subtitles

There are several differences between closed captions and subtitles, which are presented here.

But before that, if you need to create subtitles for your videos, in ScriptMe you can do it automatically and in a matter of seconds. Try it for free.

Closed captioning vs subtitles

Subtitles offer a translation to viewers who do not understand the language in which a movie, video or any audiovisual material is produced. Closed captions, in addition to presenting the text of the audio, include other elements of sound and plot to facilitate the understanding of the entire content.

Good subtitles make it easier for the viewer to understand content in another language, while closed captions are in the original language of the video or television program and benefit people who cannot hear or hear audio poorly.

Subtitles are usually (but not always) permanently embedded in audiovisual materials. Closed captions, on the other hand, can be turned on and off at any time.

And you can easily recognize each one. While both are written at the bottom of the screen, subtitles are written in plain text. Closed captions, on the other hand, appear in parentheses or brackets.

Today, major platforms use both closed captions and subtitles to overcome language or perception barriers and make their video more accessible to everyone.

What is a caption?

The caption system consists of transforming the audio of an audiovisual project into text, and inserting it so that it appears on a screen or monitor.

Captioning is widely used to favor accessibility to content by people with some type of hearing or cognitive disability.

subtitles vs captioning

These are texts that accompany a video sequence and may comprise video speech, speech translation and description of environmental sounds.

These sounds appear in brackets when they reflect concepts, for example: happy, doubtful or crying. And in brackets, to identify sound elements of the plot such as music, laughter, applause, ringing and many more.

Their purpose is to communicate the totality of what is happening and they can be activated and deactivated; in fact, they are not visible if you do not activate them. Unlike open captions, which are embedded in videos and are permanent.

Captions were introduced in the early 1970s to address the needs of hearing-impaired viewers watching television. In 1980 it was declared mandatory for broadcast television programs in the United States.

What is the definition of subtitles?

Common subtitles are audio translations to make it easier for audiences around the world to watch movies, videos and other content.

These subtitles are texts that only include the dialogues and their objective is that viewers can understand the dialogues, even if they do not know the language.

Subtitling vs captioning

Additionally, subtitles are very useful for learning foreign languages. And they allow access to the content, when it is not convenient or you don't want to make noise.

They emerged in 1930 when the transition from silent films to audio films took place. They were created to adapt films to foreign audiences who did not understand the language in which they were made.

When should each be used?

When deciding whether to use closed captions or subtitles, it all comes down to what has the most strategic value for you at the time.

If you want your materials to be accessible to the majority of people, then you're better off using closed captions.

And, if you are looking to share clear and precise content of your products or services, in different domains and markets, the best option will be subtitles.

Using foreign languages other than your native language, such as Spanish or French, will open up many possibilities.

difference between closed captions and subtitle

Additionally, with subtitles your materials can be viewed anytime, anywhere.

The trend is that closed captions are used more in movies, series and documentaries on major platforms such as Amazon Prime, You Tube or Netflix.

Subtitles are also used in movies, but above all, they are seen in videos posted on social networks such as Instagram, Tiktok and Facebook.


Closed captioning and subtitling make it possible for the general public, or those with special conditions, to access all the contents of audiovisual materials.

All major platforms use them. If you watch a movie on Netflix, for example, you can select subtitles in a foreign language, or closed captions in the same language as the movie.

Now that you know what they are and what are the differences between closed captions and common subtitles, you will be able to better target your messages and audiovisual productions to your different audiences and you will be more successful.

Emil Nikkhah
Hi, I'm Emil Nikkhah.
For over 25 years, I have successfully built several television post-production companies.
Frustrated by the high cost and slowness of manual transcription and subtitling in this industry, we decided to create ScriptMe, a powerful software for automatic transcription and subtitling.
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