Captioning & Subtitling

The world of text that appears at the bottom (or sometimes the top) of your screen when watching certain videos is more complex than you probably imagined. Most people would probably agree that there’s a difference between captioning and subtitles. But what is that difference, exactly?

Captioning is a useful tool for exposing the largest possible audience to your content. That includes the use of subtitles, which have a specific place within the overarching umbrella of on-screen text. From translating foreign films to advertising more effectively on Instagram, captioning has a long, long history. And some new applications have granted the practice additional versatility.

Defining subtitles

“Oh, great,” you think to yourself as your partner loads up another foreign film for movie night, “time for subtitles.” Time to spend the movie dividing your time between reading the dialogue and watching the action. Ugh. 

Subtitles are so closely associated with foreign films because they’re solely focused on dialogue. Usually, the dialogue we can’t understand is in a different language. Sometimes, however, movies and TV include dialects that are hard to comprehend, mumbling, or otherwise obscured audio. Shows like Josh Gates’ Expedition Unknown are good examples. Whether it’s heavy accents or speaking underwater, subtitles help the audience understand what’s happening.

The basic rule of thumb is this: subtitles is onscreen text that conveys anything a character says. That’s all the words said aloud, ripped straight from the screenplay. They’re specifically focused on taking words the audience can’t understand and making them intelligible. 

Whatever your personal feelings on foreign films, you have to admit that subtitles open up inaccessible content to a wider audience. In some cases, they might make something unusable into a valuable piece of a video!

Defining captioning

Ok, so now you know what subtitles are. Before, we told you that there are differences between captioning and subtitles, and we’re sure you’re dying to find out the difference. Captioning can perform all the same functions as subtitles, BUT they also include sounds outside of dialogue. Crash, boom, bang, thud! Captioning includes those well-loved sound effects that let us know there’s some serious, hard-hitting action afoot. In the same vein, captioning also includes phrases like, dramatic music plays, or indistinct chatter. Gotta love when those show up on screen! 

Captioning encompasses everything in the audio because they’re not just designed for people who can’t understand what’s being said, but for people who actually can’t hear what’s going on at all. That’s everyone from deaf viewers to people sitting on the bus without headphones. 

Increasing Accessibility

Crossing language barriers with ease

Outside Shanghai restaurant at night
Subtitles allow your video to be understood by anyone around the globe.

As we said, the biggest benefit to captioning or subtitles is increasing the accessibility of your video to a wide audience. In the case of subtitles, it’s basically been a choice between subtitles or producing unique translations of a video for every audience. If that sounds expensive, that’s because it is!

With subtitles, you can produce a single video in the language the greatest portion of your audience speaks. Then, you create alternate versions with subtitles for distribution. This easily-integrated feature saves you time and money when it comes to creating video content that must appeal to people fluent in different languages.

Advertising on social media

When we cut videos for distribution on Instagram or Facebook, our clients sometimes ask that we include captioning. There are two options for that, called closed captioning and open captioning. Open captioning allows viewers to turn the captions off or on, depending on their preference. More and more, however, clients want closed captioning; captions that are baked in to the video. There’s no option to turn closed captioning on or off. 

Sound like absolute madness? It’s actually not. See, a lot of people browse these sites on their phones, often in public places, and often without headphones. In other words, they’re not interested in watching a video with the sound on.

Viewers will often skip right over a video if they know they can’t listen to it. A social ad can have the best opening line ever, but if the audience knows they won’t hear it, then it might as well not be there. With captioning, they’ll still see that line immediately, meaning there’s a much better chance that they’ll stick around to see (and read) what happens next.

Enhancing visuals

As captioning becomes a more common phenomenon, some have used it as an opportunity to get visually creative. Most media presents captions in simple text, streaming in a single line across the bottom of the screen. But videos and movies that use them intermittently can take a more dynamic approach without the captions becoming a distraction. 

Creating a graphics package just for the subtitles, animators are able to add a unique visual element to your video, woven into your footage in an eye-catching and memorable way. The traditional rules don’t apply, and words can go anywhere on the screen.

Using captioning

Captioning your content can be a seamless process. Once a transcription of the video dialogue is completed with timestamps, subtitles can be accurately linked to the actual speaking of the words on screen during post-production. 

Here at ECG Productions, we have a few different methods of integrating captions and subtitles. Industry-standard post-production software like Adobe Premiere enables the addition of basic captioning with different fonts, locations, and backgrounds to choose from. If you’re looking for something more complex, the animation team will work with you to develop a subtitle treatment and inlay it directly into your video for more appeal.

Regardless of your subtitle design, adding them into your video can help enhance exposure and increase the accessibility of your footage, broadening reach and audience appeal. To learn more, contact our talented team!