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Closed Captions vs. Subtitles: What’s the Difference?


Aug 26, 2022

Collage style image featuring a black and white photograph of a horse overlooking a desert canyon. The image has illustrated and text overlays that read, “Your captions will look like this.” An illustrated toggle features options for “Turn off captions” and “English (en)”. In the top left corner, text reads: > Subtitles (English) (Korean) (Russian) (Italian) (French) (Chinese) (Dutch). Image coloring features various shades of purple. (CC) letters are featured in the bottom right side of the image.

RevBlogCaptionsClosed Captions vs. Subtitles: What’s the Difference?

You may know that captions and subtitles are similar, but do you know how they’re different?

Even Netflix, a streaming company with some of the highest subtitles and closed captioning standards, groups them both under a heading of subtitles. This can be confusing for someone trying to understand the difference between subtitles vs. captions.

subtitles and closed captions settings netflix

Despite how things might look, both captions and subtitles serve unique purposes and have specific traits that make them distinct.

While both appear as text on the bottom of your screen, and typically represent the speech between characters on your television or computer, captions and subtitles are different in what they convey and when they should be used. 

Captions are a transcription of dialogue and are primarily used to help viewers who cannot hear video audio. Meanwhile, subtitles provide a translation for viewers who don’t understand the language being spoken.

What’s the Difference Between Closed Captions and Subtitles


Apart from how they’re used, there are some other key differences between captions and subtitles? Let’s take a look at each of their core characteristics: 


  • Include background noises, speaker differentiation, and other relevant information, making content more accessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Come in two forms, open or closed captions – closed captioning (CC) can be turned off by the viewer with the click of a button, while open captions are embedded into the video and cannot be turned off.


  • Unlike closed captions, subtitles assume viewers can hear the audio and are typically used when the viewer doesn’t speak the language in the video. 
  • Typically used in movies when the language spoken in countries where the film is distributed is different than the language the film is shot in e.g. for a French film screened in an English-speaking country. 

You may also be wondering if closed captions or subtitles are more accurate. The answer is it depends. Since both convey different information, they are accurate in different ways; close captions will more closely convey what is going on on-screen, while subtitles will provide a more useful translation of dialogue in another language. Additionally, the accuracy and quality of your captions/subtitles depends on how you create them – but we’ll talk about that later

Why use Closed Captions?

As mentioned, captions were designed with accessibility in mind, providing all the audio information for a piece of video content in text form. In fact, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public multimedia, whether shown in the classroom or on late-night television, must be captioned by law in order to prevent discrimination. This means that if you’re publishing any kind of video content online, you may need to add closed captions to comply with these regulations. 

However, alongside making your content more accessible, captions have a few other uses. They can help viewers follow the story or dialogue in a video when they can’t hear the sound, either because they’re in a noisy environment, such as at the gym or on the train, or because of a sound-sensitive environment, such as a hospital waiting room. Captions also allow viewers to understand videos that show up on social media news feeds where the audio may automatically be silenced. They can therefore be a great addition if you’re trying to boost engagement or get your message across through short, viral clips. 

Example of Closed Captions Moana

Why use Subtitles?

America’s entertainment industry represents a third of the global market, but there’s also an uptick of people in the US consuming internationally produced content. This means that more and more people will turn to subtitles as they consume more content in another language. 

But again, subtitles aren’t only for aiding a viewer’s understanding of content in a foreign language. They also have proven benefits for those trying to learn another language, with research showing that as long as videos with subtitles match the proficiency of the language learners, they are a useful tool for improving comprehension.

In terms of daily use, subtitles are ideal if you want your content to spread internationally or if you operate in several markets. Adding subtitle options in multiple languages, like Spanish, will allow your content to be understood in many different countries.

Example of subtitles Moana

Closed Captions vs. Subtitles: Which is Better?

When it comes to subtitles vs closed captions and deciding which to use, it’s all a matter of preference. While both have their specific benefits and uses, it depends on your reason for adding them to your content. If you want to boost the accessibility of your videos, captions are the way to go. Alternatively, when it comes to sharing content across different domains and markets, subtitles will help non-native speakers understand your videos. 

Either way, adding subtitles or captioning to your videos is a simple process that packs a lot of benefits for all viewers, not just those who speak another language or have difficulty hearing. In fact, more than 80 percent of people who watch videos with captions turned on do not require them.


Want captions or subtitles added directly to your videos?

Rev’s captioning service makes adding subtitles or captions easy. Just upload your video files and we’ll do the rest. 

Rev also offers burned-in captions (open captions). Just check the “burned-in captions” box at checkout and you’ll receive a video with permanent, hard-coded captions added straight to your videos. Also available for foreign language subtitles!

Burned-in Caption pricing


Related Blogs

Closed Captions vs. Open Captions: What’s the Difference? 

How to Add Subtitles & Captions into Videos

5 Benefits of Using Closed Captions In Your Video Content


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