Subtitles and Captions: What’s the Difference

Subtitles and Captions: What’s the Difference

Subtitles and captions both provide a textual representation of spoken words and sounds in videos, but there is a subtle distinction between the two. Subtitles display spoken words without any additional information about sound effects or background noises. Conversely, captions are intended to offer a more comprehensive textual representation of all audio content in the video, including speaker identifications, sound effects, and other relevant details.

However, to be precise, there are actually three terms that need clarification: open captions, closed captions, and subtitles.

What Are Subtitles?

Subtitles are typically located at the bottom of the screen and represent a textual version of the spoken words in video content. Unlike captions, subtitles are designed for viewers who can hear the original audio but may not understand it. This difference is well described in the article “Difference Between Captions and Subtitles“.

Subtitles are commonly created to assist viewers watching content in a foreign language. This is why subtitles are used to bring foreign films closer to the audience. However, it’s not limited to foreign films; considering English’s status as a global language, many people worldwide can understand English-language video content to some extent. In such cases, subtitles come in handy. 

In most cases, subtitles do not include non-verbal words or background sounds.

What Are Closed Captions (CC)?

Closed captions encompass text embedded within the video, which can be particularly valuable to individuals with hearing impairments. To enhance understanding, viewers with hearing loss appreciate closed captions that include descriptions of relevant background noises.

This is why you might sometimes see text like “[door creaks]” on the screen. Closed captions may also include speaker identification to make the dialogue clearer.

Imagine watching the entire “Star Wars” saga without knowing that R2-D2 actually communicates (by itself? It doesn’t matter). Generally, they are written in the same language as the audio content.

Closed captions are essentially a transcription of spoken words, including both dialogue and relevant background sounds, as well as speaker identification.

Why is it called closed captions? Closed captions are called “closed” because they can be turned on or off by the viewer, providing a closed or optional text overlay on the video screen. Unlike open captions, which are permanently embedded into the video and cannot be disabled, closed captions offer flexibility to the viewer. This feature is especially valuable for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who may want to watch a video without sound or in noisy environments. The term “closed captions” reflects this closed or optional nature of the text-based content displayed on the screen.

Subtitles and Captions – Not the Same, Right?

Absolutely right. Subtitles and captions are not the same. In summary, though they may seem quite similar, there is a significant difference between them.

Subtitles are mainly used for globally produced content intended for a global audience. Closed captions (CC) are designed to improve comprehension for viewers with hearing impairments or those who cannot enjoy the audio while watching a video.

The key differences between subtitles and closed captions primarily revolve around their intended purposes, but there are also some technical distinctions.

Open Captions (OC) and Closed Captions (CC)

So, now we understand what subtitles and closed captions are, but what about open captions? What are they? In brief, subtitles are technically a separate file. Typically, it’s an SRT file that you upload alongside video files. In essence, this allows you to turn subtitles on or off. For instance, when you’re watching movies on YouTube or Netflix, viewers have the option to disable them.

Open captions are similar to closed captions, but they can’t be turned off. They are firmly encoded into the video file. So, if you download or upload a video with open captions, you only need one file, not two.

Subtitles vs. Captions: Subtitles are usually meant for international video platforms and cater to non-native speakers (but not exclusively).

Closed Captions vs. Open Captions: Closed captions include textual representations of background sounds but can be turned on or off. Open captions are permanently displayed on the video screen.

Different Objectives of Subtitles and Captions

Subtitles and captions enhance the accessibility of your videos, but that’s not all. They are a necessity, as many legal organizations require the inclusion of subtitles in your videos. Therefore, even deaf and hearing-impaired individuals can enjoy videos without sound.

However, adding subtitles goes beyond necessity; it can be crucial for your video marketing efforts.

Why Do B2B Videos Need Subtitles?

Many companies use videos in their branding and marketing efforts, as well as for internal communication and training. Subtitles are essential for creating videos of this nature for the following reasons:

  1. Inclusion and Disability Laws: You need to do everything within your power to ensure you’re not discriminating against people based on their ability to hear. You need to create accessible and inclusive content.
  2. Branding Objectives: Your brand has specific colors, typography, and visual identity. It’s crucial to use these across all your channels for recognition. If you’re using a tool like vidby, which allows you to brand subtitles, you instantly make your videos more recognizable. Additionally, continuing to produce high-quality content that’s more branded helps your audience associate your brand’s colors and typography with valuable information.
  3. Enhancing Internal Communication: Remote teams and global workplaces are a reality we live and work in today. This means that teams have become more diverse than ever before. Moreover, your internal communication and training can be much more effective if you incorporate video.


In summary, the distinction between subtitles, captions, open captions, and closed captions lies in their intended use and technical characteristics. Subtitles are predominantly employed to make content accessible to a global audience, especially those who speak different languages. Closed captions (CC) are invaluable for individuals with hearing impairments or those who prefer to watch videos without audio.

The technical variations between open and closed captions further emphasize their respective functions. Open captions are permanently embedded in the video and cannot be turned off, while closed captions provide viewers with the choice to enable or disable them.

Understanding the differences between these text representations is vital for content creators, marketers, and organizations striving for inclusivity and legal compliance. Adding subtitles and closed captions to videos not only meets accessibility requirements but also enhances brand recognition, facilitates internal communication, and ensures that your content reaches a broader and more diverse audience.

In today’s globalized and digitally connected world, the use of subtitles and captions is more than a necessity; it is a strategic advantage for creating engaging and accessible multimedia content.