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Open Captions (OC) vs Closed Captions (CC)

Open and closed captions (CC) are an indispensable part of video content. 

Because of snacks.

If you want to snack and watch videos, you need captions. Or subtitles. It depends - we’ll get there in a moment. 

Let’s get serious for a moment.

The thing is - whether they admit it or not, your audience, just like everyone else on this planet - use captions. Numbers don’t lie. Statistics reflect this reality too: videos that have captions hold the audience’s attention for longer – their watch time is on average 12% longer.

And how about another, very different fact? 

According to The World Health Organization, by 2050, every fourth person on the planet will suffer from some degree of hearing loss. In terms of video stats, no matter how well you’re doing, a quarter of the entire population of the world sounds like a chunk of the audience that you don’t want to lose.

So the solution is simple: adding captions. Closed or open captions? Or wait, are those subtitles? Is there even a difference between the three? Let's get to the bottom of this mystery!

Difference between Open Captions (OC) and Closed Captions (CC)

Let's talk about open and closed captioning. When you're playing a video stream on YouTube, for instance, you may have noticed a little button in the lower right of the screen that says CC. Clearly, that stands for Closed Captions, and by clicking it, you can turn captions on and off.

But how come there isn't a similar button that says OC?

Well, that’s the thing! That is exactly the difference between open and closed captions!

Open captions are burned into the video file. There's no OC button because, if you can turn them off, then they're not open captions anymore. Unlike closed captions, open captions are, by definition, permanently visible.

Closed captions, on the other hand, are contained in a separate file. The caption file can come in many different file formats and the viewer can choose whether to display text or not.

Why Are They Called Open and Closed Captions?

Now that you know what open and closed captions are, it's pretty clear where they got the names. Not to be Captain Obvious, but we'll spell it out anyway. 

  • Open captions are called that because they are open as soon as you play your video.
  • Closed captions, on the other hand, can be opened or closed, depending on your preference. 

Clever, right?

The Pros of Closed Captions

A lot of major social media platforms and video streaming services use closed captions - meaning you can toggle them off or on. Apart from the obvious pro - that users can turn off the captions if they don't feel like they need them, there are a few other advantages of closed captions.

  • The most obvious advantage of closed over open captioning is that closed captions are easily fixable. If you want to edit your caption file, you can do so easily and then re-upload the new version.

  • You can also have multiple files for a single video, for instance, translations into different languages, and the viewers can choose which one they want to be displayed.

  • This brings us to our next point: caption files are an excellent starting point for repurposing content. If you've been a content creator for a while, you know that no one has an infinite well of stellar content ideas.

This is why most content creators liberally repurpose their own content in the form of blog posts, social media snippets, website landing page copy, podcasts, and whatever else they can think of. 

And all of this is much easier to do when you have all of the necessary info in one handy and searchable text file. Not to mention, search engines love text that they can easily read and use to rank your content.

The Cons of Closed Captions

Closed captions sound perfect, and they certainly come close, but they still have a few cons.

One of the main disadvantages of closed captions is that they are not universal. Closed captions come in many different file formats like SRT, VTT, or SUB, and not all media players support every single one.

For you, as a content creator, the main downside is that you can’t force closed captions onto people’s screens. 

The Pros of Open Captions

First and foremost - you get to force the captions on people’s screens and they can’t turn them off. They have to see them, whether they like it or not.

OK, maybe it’s not this dramatic. In most cases, people simply forget to turn on the captions and pretty much welcome them when they are available.

Some major social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok don't have a closed caption feature, they only allow their own auto-generated captions, which can be rather iffy.

When you want to upload a video to a site that doesn't support closed captioning functionality, but you still want everybody in your audience to be able to follow and understand your video, open captions are the solution to your conundrum. 

While you can't upload a text version of your audio in a neat little file, what you can do is add hard-coded captions. The same goes for viewers who are watching offline videos - there's no need to worry about a million different media players that they might be using. One of the main advantages of open captions is that they will show up in every single one.

The Cons of Open Captions

The main con of open captions is their lack of flexibility. Once you have your captions burned in, you have to go through the entire process again if you want to change even a single letter.

Open captions also interfere with, for instance, translations, because you can't just overlay another set of captions over the already existing ones.

Also, sometimes, they’re not really optimised for the mobile view. 

Captions vs. Subtitles

Now that we're done with open captions vs closed captions, let's work out the roles of subtitles, as well.

All of these terms get thrown around, but they're all just referring to the script at the bottom of your screen when you're watching video content. So, does a difference between subtitles and open captions or closed captions exist?

The difference between captions and standard subtitles is whether you can hear what is being said and whether you understand it. When the sound of the video file is available, and the viewer hears it but doesn't understand it for some reason, we are talking about subtitles. 

For instance, you would have subtitles on foreign films. Subtitles can be either a transcription or a translation. Standard subtitles assume you can hear what is being said, you just don't understand it.

On the other hand, captions are a transcript of audio, used when the viewer doesn't hear or can't make out the audio, and it also includes descriptions of background sounds, musical cues and other important audio information.

The main purposes of captions are for viewers who suffer from hearing loss, or for viewers who are watching videos on mute, for instance. The added information, apart from just dialog, is a major benefit of captions over subtitles, but which ones you choose depends on the purpose and the video content itself.

How to Add Captions to Your Videos?

Adding closed and open captions is equally easy when you have an app like Subly. Subly can create your captions in a matter of moments. It only takes three steps:

  1. Upload your video. You can upload a video from your device, or paste an URL of an existing video online.
  2. Add subtitles or captions. Get Subly to automatically transcribe the video for you so you can make any small changes to the timestamps, wording, grammar, and similar.
  3. Style your video and captions. Change the font, colour, size of your subtitles. Add logos, headings, and more.
  4. Download your video and subtitles. You can burn them into the video or you can export them as a separate file. 

All Subly captions can be edited or translated into multiple languages, and if you go the closed caption route, you can choose to save your transcript file in one or several supported file formats.

Everything about the process is up to you. There's only one thing that's not up for negotiation: the necessity of video captions.

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