If your dance card is too full for closed captioning, think again! Did you know that research shows that out of 7.5million who used closed captions, 6 million have no hearing impairment? It might all be a matter of preference, albeit there are mandatory rules on captioning that govern different countries. They are rules that exist to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Hence, if you’re not looking to warrant a hefty fine, it’s important to understand media captioning regulations in your country. 

When it comes to the question of “how does closed caption work?”, you’re might have a million questions. Does “open caption” exist? Is there is an actual keyboard whiz typing away at lightning pace behind the screen? Is including captions in your next video, movie, or television project necessary? Hang tight to your keyboards. This article will teach you everything you need to know about how closed caption work, and more.


What is a Closed Caption?

Closed captions, or CCs, appear as text on the screen of a television, video, or other visual displays. They encompass information of the audio content that accompanies the display on the screen. The term “closed” caption essentially means that the text does not appear on screen unless a viewer activates it. On the other side of the coin, “open” captions or “hard” captions do not give viewers the option to hide or display the captions. 

Captions were invented in 1947 by Emerson Romero, a hearing-impaired actor. The National Bureau of standards later evolved this to closed captioning with the application of a television set equipped with specialized technology. Today, closed captions are an available function even for digital media. Platforms such as YouTube enable viewers to watch a video in a quiet environment, such as a library, without having headphones. 


Closed Captions Versus Subtitles

Let’s start with the basics. The fundamental purpose of closed captions is to provide accessibility to viewers who cannot hear the audio. Such includes the on-screen dialogue and a description of any other audio such as sound effects and other non-speech elements like the speakers’ identity. 

Subtitles, on the other hand, are essentially translated audio dialogue that appears on screen as text. It intends to help viewers understand a language they deem foreign. That means that the original audio dialogue may not necessarily be in the same language as the subtitled text on the screen. Unlike closed captions, subtitles do not include any sound effects as they are meant for viewers who can hear the audio. That said, location plays a role in defining the terminology. But don’t let it faze you. You’ll be fine as long as you follow the guidelines and laws of the region.


Closed Captioning in the US & Canada

Did you know that closed captioning is mandatory in the US for almost all television-aired programs in both English and Spanish? It is also compulsory to caption emergency information; it’s a rule set by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulates similar laws and captioning standards. They require broadcasters to caption all of their television programs, advertising, sponsorship, and promotional content.

how does closed caption work

Closed Captioning in Other Countries

While the US and Canada define closed captioning and subtitles as separate things, the UK deems them the same. The United Kingdom, Ireland, and most countries use subtitles and closed captioning interchangeably. Captions to aid the hearing impaired are simply dubbed as “subtitles for the hard of hearing.” These subtitles are already available for most digital devices today. Hence, there has been no need to mandate which ones have closed captions, and the same goes for Australia and New Zealand.


Why Is Closed Captioning Important?

Now that we’ve cleared the term, it’s time to deliberate whether including closed captions for your content is worth the investment. And for that, we have a list of compelling reasons why we say “Yay” instead of “Nay.


Increase Audience Viewership

Whether we’re looking at an advertising campaign project or a television series, producing the content is moot without viewership. So let’s explore how closed captions can help to achieve that. 

Firstly, closed captioning extends your reach by including viewers who have a hearing impairment and those who are unfamiliar with the local accent or language. It also makes your content intelligible to viewers who are consuming them in sound-sensitive environments such as noisy commute transports, or a quiet library. Such is particularly useful because 85% of Facebook and 60% of Instagram videos are viewed muted. Consequently, this means an enhanced viewer experience, which increases your number of views, shares, engagement, and conversions.


Avoid Lawsuits

Situated in the US? Captioning is important in ensuring that its business is compliant with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Requirements aside, providing a closed caption for your digital media content frames you as an inclusive unprejudiced brand. After all, it’s always better to be safe than deal with costly disability discrimination lawsuits in hindsight.


Enrich Learning Experiences

We’re calling all educators! Deciphering audio information aside, did you know that captioning is an inexpensive and engaging way to support literacy? Research proves that subtitles and closed captioning can strengthen reading skills and fluency, improve vocabulary, and enhance listening comprehension. Because of the intuitive nature of reading on-screen text, this method has especially aided learning in students with learning disabilities and beginner readers.

The use of subtitled or closed captioned media is also effective in teaching a foreign language. It’s a motivational and entertaining method that relieves learning anxiety. Overall, captioned media increases the engagement and enjoyment of learning in comparison with other teaching methods. Today, universities and educational institutions use closed captioning to render knowledge access to people with hearing disabilities. Likewise, workplace meetings and events use them too to not only benefit the deaf but also help with note-taking.  


Organize Your Content for Better SEO

In today’s modern age, digital media consumption has been ramping up. And that’s especially so since the onset of the global pandemic. Many people are unaware that comprehension aside, closed captions can make a huge difference in marketing campaigns when an appropriate SEO strategy is applied. Video streaming platforms such as YouTube rely on search engines to pick out information from closed captions.

Therefore, the text you choose to include in your closed captioning can increase your keyword depth and effectiveness. It better indexes your video content to make it easy to find and improves your ranking and visibility. 

Moreover, if you’re looking to penetrate global markets, developing closed captions is an essential first step in translating and localizing your video content into other languages.


How Does Closed Caption Work?

If you’re now on board with closed captioning, you might wonder does closed caption work. Closed captions are turned on as simply as clicking on a button on your television remote control. However, behind the scenes, it’s a different, more complex story than that. After all, there are usually more than one ways to skin the cat for most things in life!


Human of Computer-Generated Captioning?

Looking for a quick and simple fix to get closed captioning done, there are computer-generated programs that can do that for you. But be warned. Due to background noise and variation in vocal accents, the outcome is not particularly good and you might end up with garbled nonsense. If SIRI can misunderstand your command, so can computers!

Computer-Generated Technology

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) is software that deciphers speech and translates it into text. If you’re a YouTube addict, you’ve probably experienced the closed captioning outcome of this method. Unfortunately, captions can end up being extremely inaccurate. 

But should you still be insistent on roping in economical technology, software such as Descript, VEED, and Amara are automatic transcription generators that can help. Although the outcome is not all that perfect, we can’t deny that such accessibility is a step in the right direction for mankind and society!   


Human Transcription

The best closed captioning is when humans do it for humans! “Why,” you ask? Simply put, logic plays a huge role. Plus it is hard for a computer to decode and describe sound effects if you think about it. 

That said, human work doesn’t always mean expensive. If you’re looking for quality-vetted and affordable closed captions for your project, try this platform out for size. Done by humans and intended for humans, the platform also delivers professional dubbingtranslationscriptwritingvideo editing, and transcription in a ton of different languages.


Live or Offline Captioning?

Closed captioning today includes programs both for live events and recorded content, and here’s how it’s done.

Live Captioning

As your might imagine, closed captioning live events is considerably more challenging than offline captioning. Live captioning graces the screens of televised programs, digitized content, sporting events, political interviews, on-site broadcasts, and live game shows. Because the audio content of live captioning often does not follow a script, you can imagine how unpredictable on-screen events might get. 

Hence, it’s not hard to imagine a team of world-class stenographers typing away furiously behind the screen. Their goal? To relentlessly and attentively transcribe captured audio content in a timely and accurate manner. That means no more than a few seconds after the dialogue has been spoken. There are no do-overs and probably more than a million people watching the screen. Envision the pressure-pot stress level of live captioning!


Offline Captioning

Although offline captioning is comparatively less time-intense, accuracy remains important, and probably so does your boss’s timely expectations! Offline captions appear on recorded television programs, social media videos, training content, recorded lectures, and movies. Since urgency isn’t an issue, there are several ways to generate offline captions. One of which is respeaking.


Respeaking or Stenocaptioning? 

Before you underestimate the skill set required for creating closed captions, think again. Captioners are quite the unsung heroes with pristine grammatical command and their unparalleled attention to detail.


What is Stenocaptioning?

Stenographers steno-caption, plain and simple. Certified stenographers have degrees in broadcast stenography as it’s a specialized skill set. Ordinarily, it isn’t as simple as reproducing what you hear. A shorthand keyboard attributes the incredible typing speed of world-class stenographers; some up to 300 words per minute!

These stenotype machines look alien to most of us. By and large, it works by spelling out entire words and syllables by pressing on multiple keys simultaneously in a single motion. But consequently, that means that a stenographer memorizes thousands of combinations and produces them literally with the tips of their fingers. Courtrooms also use this skill to record testimonies, so don’t sneeze at that!

how does closed caption work

What is Respeaking? 

Close your eyes at any live event and listen intently. You’ll find that ambient noise and background music aside, many people are speaking all at the same time. Such is one of the reasons why ASR technology fails to produce accuracy. 

A respeaker, unlike a stenographer, listens to the targeted audio and repeats it verbally into an ASR software. Though, similar to Stenocaptioning, it’s more than meets the ear. That’s because respeakers also look after formatting instructions, punctuation, text positioning, and color assignment commands. 


Closed Captioning Best Practices

Now that you can envision making them, let’s dive into some essential guidelines for effective closed captioning. The US FCC governs captioning best practices with four criteria: Captions should be accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed. Here’s a summary of that.

Accuracy dictates that the captions should capture as much audio information as possible, including noises. These captions must sync with the on-screen display, and remain long enough for reading. Such should be available from the program’s beginning to the end. Furthermore, the text should appear on a strategic location and block as little of the screen as possible.


To Close Caption or Not?

Now that we’ve answered the question on “How does closed caption work?”, you’ll probably never take it for granted. And if you’re deliberating on whether you should include closed captions for your next project, we say they will make your content a shoo-in