Why Are Captions Important? Six Good Reasons

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In the age of content streaming, captioning is becoming increasingly important. Read on to learn how it benefits both the viewers and content creators.

We live in the world of content streaming and video is the main medium. Captions (often mistakenly called subtitles) are becoming increasingly popular with video producers and content creators. Let’s talk about what captions are, why they help to make your videos accessible, and why that’s important.

What are captions?

Captions are the text representation of what is happening on the screen. They presume that the viewer cannot hear the video’s audio track. This fact differentiates them from subtitles. Subtitles presume that the viewer can hear the audio track but cannot understand the dialogue. 

So, while subtitles are just a translation of dialogue into another language, captions are much more. Captions denote noises, music, and certain behaviors (such as sneezing or laughing), providing the description of on-screen action. There is also character differentiation so that the viewer knows who's talking. 

Captions can be open (burnt-in) and closed. Closed captions are the most common type. They are called this way because they can be turned on and off (“closed”) by the user. Closed captions offer some important advantages both to the viewers and creators:

  • Because they can be turned on and off, the video watching experience is customizable;
  • Because closed captions exist in a separate file, they can be re-edited and re-uploaded with the video;
  • There are a variety of closed caption file formats making them compatible with different video players.

Why captions?

why closed captioning is important

Captions can (and should) be used for television shows, movies, employee training videos, YouTube video blogs, and much more. In the US, captions are a requirement for any kind of public broadcast following the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2011. This is why closed captioning is important. But in addition to catering to the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience, captions increase your video content’s accessibility to other audience segments. Screen reader-readable captions can even help blind people watch movies. This, in turn, increases audience engagement and your video views. Let’s look in detail at what makes captions so important in today’s world. 

Why people use video captions

Captions were originally envisioned as a tool that would make video content accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. With captions, they could follow the action on the screen, reading the text line by line. But today, people use video captions for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to any disability. So, what are the benefits of closed captioning? 

Seeing what cannot be heard

The deaf and low-hearing community are the primary users of captions. Without them, the videos would be completely inaccessible to this group. This is why the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2011 requires captions for all kinds of public video broadcasts. Captions enable such viewers to understand who speaks when and generally follow the story. This is especially important because the number of deaf or hard-of-hearing people is growing around the world. This is the result of both the population getting older and environmental factors. 

Following spoken text

It’s not just hearing-impaired people who will find the on-screen text version of the video action helpful. Sometimes, the speech in the video is unclear. In this case, captions help understand what may otherwise be misheard. Sometimes, the audio is clear, but the person watching the video is a non-native speaker. Seeing the spoken text on screen helps such viewers better understand and follow the dialogue. This is also true of kids learning to read, people with autism and other groups – the benefits of reading subtitles are real for them.

And, sometimes, it’s just a person watching the video on mute. This may be related to the circumstances of watching or it may be a personal preference. In any case, the number of people who watch their videos on mute is a very sizable chunk of the whole audience. 

number of people who watch their videos on mute

Understanding content better

As previously mentioned, your videos may (and most likely will) be watched by people who are not native speakers of the video’s language. For them, captions are essential. Hearing and seeing the text at the same time is known to help people learn the language and understand content better. Closed captioning also helps reading. 

Another point to consider is this. If the video has a lot of specific terms and proper names, they can be easily misheard or misinterpreted. Seeing them on the screen spelled out correctly helps people absorb this information and understand it.

Why creators should use captions

Now that we’ve talked about ways that captions help the viewers, let’s talk about ways captions can help creators/content makers.

Improving engagement with the audience

Improving engagement with the audience

This follows from everything we’ve discussed in the previous section. When people can watch your video with captions and follow the action on screen without the sound on, your engagement rates improve. According to a recent study by Discovery Digital Networks, captioned videos receive a 13.48% boost in views in the first two weeks after they are published. There is also a 7.32% overall increase in views. More people will watch the video, and more people will watch it to the end.

Improving your SEO score and searchability

Because search engines are text-based, adding captions to your videos improves your SEO game. Search engines can’t watch a video, but they can read a transcript, which is a text file with your captions. With captions (and subtitles in other languages) you’ll greatly improve the searchability of your content, increasing traffic to your videos.

Repurposing captions into other content

Once you create captions for your video content, you can repurpose them in several ways. All of them help to expand your audience.

You can use the captions to create a blogpost, an article, or even an e-course based on one or several videos. This will draw the people who may be interested in subject matter but prefer to absorb information through reading.

You can also use the caption to create subtitles in other languages. This will help to expand your audience geographically, bringing your content to new countries and regions.

Summing up

As you can see, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of captions. They help you engage with your audience and grow it, they ensure that your content is ADA-compliant, and they do a great service to many people by making your content accessible or better understandable. If you wonder how many people actually use subtitles, know this: a joint study from Verizon and Publicis Media found that up to 80% of viewers are more likely to finish watching a video if it has subtitles.

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