You’ve probably heard of ‘closed captions’, but what about ‘open captions’? Both types of captions make content more accessible for viewers but each have different pros and cons.
In this post, we’ll explore the difference between open captions and closed captions, with some tips on when to use each.
What are Closed Captions and when should you use them?
Closed captions are the subtitles that you’re likely the most familiar with. They give the viewer the option of switching them on or off, most commonly identified by the [CC] symbol in the bottom right-hand corner of the video player.
Now, these captions aren’t technically part of the video at all, but instead are being loaded from a separate file by the video hosting platform (whether it’s YouTube, Vimeo, or something else). This is similar to captions used on television, including streaming services like Netflix.
In addition to allowing the viewer to turn them off, closed captions have a few other benefits.
Benefits of Closed Captions
Many platforms support closed captions in multiple languages. This allows you to translate and then upload your captions in virtually any language.
When it comes to search engine optimization, there may be benefits here as well. Search engines like Google or even YouTube’s search algorithm, can’t understand the contents of your video, so they’re forced to rely strictly on the ‘metadata’ that you provide, like a title and description. But closed captions allow a search engine to read and better understand what your video is about.
While the mere presence of caption files won’t necessarily make your videos rank higher, the added context ensures that a search engine can better serve your video to the right audience, based potentially on keywords mentioned within the video that you might not otherwise rank for.
There are, however, some limitations to closed captions.
First of all, not all platforms support closed captions. Now more and more social media platforms are adding support for closed captions, so this is becoming less of an issue. But as of right now, there’s no option for closed captions on videos posted to Twitter, for example, unless you’re posted them as a paid ad.
But, it’s still up to the viewer to enable closed captions on some platforms. Fortunately, platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are smart enough to enable captions by default when a video is playing without sound, which is about 98% of the time. But on YouTube, it’s possible for viewers to disable captions from turning on by default.
This is where open captions come in, which can sometimes be a better option for certain types of content and platforms.
Read More: 5 Reasons to Use Facebook Captions
What are Open Captions and when should you use them?
Open captions are what are often referred to as being hard-coded or burned-in to the video itself. Like with any other graphics created right in the video editing software, these become a permanent feature of the video and therefore cannot be turned off and on by the viewer.
Since there are still benefits to using open captions on platforms that do support them, this means creating a separate version of a video with the captions baked right in.
If you’re in need of an alternate foreign-language version using open captions then – you guessed it – you’ll need to create additional versions of your videos, each with a different translation burned-in to the video.
While open captions may be slightly more difficult to create, they do have some additional benefits of their own.
Benefits of Open Captions
Since you’ll be creating these right in the video, and not relying on the video player to render them on the fly, you can get much more creative with the font, colour, and size of your text.
You’ll also have more control of the placement of the captions on the screen. This avoids the risk of captions covering up any other important information, like a lower-third title card.
Ultimately, you can rest assured that all viewers will see your captions consistently, no matter the platform or their specific settings.
Just keep in mind that your captions will grow and shrink in proportion to the video size, and the quality of the text will also be tied to the quality of the video, meaning they may be difficult to read under some circumstances. This is different from closed captions which may be automatically scaled by the video player to compensate for a smaller screen, and their quality won’t be limited by the quality of the video itself.
Get in touch with us to learn more about how to make the most of your next video project using both kinds of captions.