June 25, 2024

Closed captions vs. subtitles: What's the difference and which is best?

Discover the key distinctions between closed captions vs. subtitles. Learn how closed captions enhance accessibility, comprehension, and SEO.
June 25, 2024

Closed captions vs. subtitles: What's the difference and which is best?

Discover the key distinctions between closed captions vs. subtitles. Learn how closed captions enhance accessibility, comprehension, and SEO.
June 25, 2024
Bani Kaur
In this article
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Matt D., Copywriter
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What type of content do you primarily create?

Videos
Podcasts
Social media clips
Transcriptions
Start editing audio & video
This makes the editing process so much faster. I wish I knew about Descript a year ago.
Matt D., Copywriter
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What type of content do you primarily create?

Videos
Podcasts
Social media clips
Transcriptions

Closed captions versus subtitles—a difference we’ve all wondered about at some point. They words are often used interchangeably in the video creation space. 

But as a creator, picking the right one can mean better audience engagement and in turn, revenue. 

So what are the key differences between them? 

What are captions?

Captions were originally designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing folks to understand the audio in a TV show or film. 

Closed captioning kicked off in the 1970s thanks to relentless advocates and innovators like Malcolm Norwood who pushed for inclusivity. Landmark legislation in 1990 and 2010 ensured that captioning wasn't just a luxury by embedding decoders in TVs and extending captioning across devices. 

Today, apps like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram use advanced algorithms to generate captions in real-time to ensure that content is accessible even in noisy environments or for those with hearing impairments.

What are subtitles?

Subtitles were introduced in the 1930s to translate audio dialogue from one language to another. Depending on the country, you can find many foreign films with either translated dubbing or translated subtitles. Today, content creators in different languages use them to expand their audiences.

Closed captions vs. subtitles: Main differences

Here are the critical differences between closed captions and subtitles:

FeatureClosed CaptionSubtitles
PurposeAccessibility for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewersTranslation for viewers who speak different languages
ContentIncludes spoken dialogue, sound effects, and music cuesOnly includes spoken dialogue
ActivationViewer can turn captions on or off (closed)Typically always on (open)
PositionUsually displayed at the bottom of the screenAlso displayed at the bottom but can vary
FormatText in sync with audio and visual cues, such as ‘soundtrack signaling impending doom’ Text in sync with spoken dialogue
Legal requirementOften required by law for accessibilityNot legally required but common practice
Common useTV broadcasts, online videos, educational contentForeign films, language learning
Target audienceDeaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, noisy environmentsViewers needing translation
Additional infoMay include speaker identificationFocused solely on translating spoken words
ImplementationTypically created by professional captioners or softwareCreated by translators or automated tools

Why use closed captions?

As a content creator, you'll use closed captions more often than subtitles. Here’s why.

First of all, captions allow deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences to fully engage with video content that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

But the benefits of closed captions extend beyond just accessibility. Today, people watch videos on mute—whether they're on public transport, at work, or on the verge of dozing off during boring lectures. Captions help them follow along. 

Captions also enhance comprehension and are a must-have for educational creators. The written text helps your audience retain more—especially non-native speakers. From an SEO perspective, closed captions can help wider audiences discover your content. Plus, search engines can crawl and index the text from captions, which improves searchability. 

How to create closed captions and subtitles with Descript

With Descript, you don’t have to devote any mental energy to subtitles. One command and they’re ready

Descript offers automatic transcription with up to 95% accuracy, easy one-click captions, and an option to export caption files (SRT and VTT)  to video platforms.

Many platforms offer automatic captioning without editing tools. That means your video runs the risk of saying “defiantly showing up” instead of “definitely showing up.” 

Descript lets you check and edit closed captions before they’re published. You ensure that your spelling and punctuation are correct, avoiding embarrassing or confusing errors

Here’s how to start:

First, import or record your video.


Next, make any necessary edits to the video and transcript using three keyboard shortcuts—Z, X, and C. To change capitalization, click on a word and press Z; to change punctuation, click on a word and hit X until your desired punctuation pops up—Descript will toggle between a period, comma, and no punctuation.

To manually correct spelling and other mistakes, follow these steps:

  1. Double-click or highlight the word or section you want to correct.
  2. Click Correct in the script toolbar, or press C.
  3. Type in your correction.
  4. Finalize your edit:
    1. Hit Enter or select Correct to update this specific instance.
    2. Choose Correct All to apply the correction to all instances of the word or phrase in your project.

Correct text mode

To make a bunch of different corrections throughout your script, go into Correct text mode by pressing Opt+C (Mac) or Alt+C (Windows). As you edit, corrected words will become underlined in dotted grey as Descript syncs up the transcript and audio.



Finally, click Publish, then Export, then Subtitles (Yes, these are technically captions, but go with it), and choose whether you want an .SRT or .VTT file

Upload your file when you upload your video to your video platform of choice.

Want to try it out for yourself?

Closed captions vs. subtitles FAQ
What does CC mean in subtitles?

CC in subtitles stands for ‘closed captions.’ Closed captions provide a transcription of the spoken dialogue and also include descriptions of non-dialogue audio elements, such as sound effects, speaker identification, and music cues.

What is an example of a closed caption?

A closed caption example might look something like this for a scene from a TV show or movie:

[Sound of rain falling]

John: "I can't believe this is happening."

[Thunder rumbling]

Jane: "We need to find shelter."

[Soft music playing in the background]

Here, brackets indicate the scene's background sounds or music. Quotations are used to show dialogue, with the speaker's name set off to the left with a colon.





Bani Kaur
Bani is a B2B SaaS writer for AI, Marketing, Sales, and Fintech brands. She specializes in interview-based writing for brands like Supermetrics, CXL, and Klaviyo. When you don't find her typing away at her laptop (or scribbling in her notebook), she's probably in the ocean, scuba diving with majestic manta rays.
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Closed captions vs. subtitles: What's the difference and which is best?

Closed captions versus subtitles—a difference we’ve all wondered about at some point. They words are often used interchangeably in the video creation space. 

But as a creator, picking the right one can mean better audience engagement and in turn, revenue. 

So what are the key differences between them? 

What are captions?

Captions were originally designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing folks to understand the audio in a TV show or film. 

Closed captioning kicked off in the 1970s thanks to relentless advocates and innovators like Malcolm Norwood who pushed for inclusivity. Landmark legislation in 1990 and 2010 ensured that captioning wasn't just a luxury by embedding decoders in TVs and extending captioning across devices. 

Today, apps like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram use advanced algorithms to generate captions in real-time to ensure that content is accessible even in noisy environments or for those with hearing impairments.

What are subtitles?

Subtitles were introduced in the 1930s to translate audio dialogue from one language to another. Depending on the country, you can find many foreign films with either translated dubbing or translated subtitles. Today, content creators in different languages use them to expand their audiences.

Closed captions vs. subtitles: Main differences

Here are the critical differences between closed captions and subtitles:

FeatureClosed CaptionSubtitles
PurposeAccessibility for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewersTranslation for viewers who speak different languages
ContentIncludes spoken dialogue, sound effects, and music cuesOnly includes spoken dialogue
ActivationViewer can turn captions on or off (closed)Typically always on (open)
PositionUsually displayed at the bottom of the screenAlso displayed at the bottom but can vary
FormatText in sync with audio and visual cues, such as ‘soundtrack signaling impending doom’ Text in sync with spoken dialogue
Legal requirementOften required by law for accessibilityNot legally required but common practice
Common useTV broadcasts, online videos, educational contentForeign films, language learning
Target audienceDeaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, noisy environmentsViewers needing translation
Additional infoMay include speaker identificationFocused solely on translating spoken words
ImplementationTypically created by professional captioners or softwareCreated by translators or automated tools

Why use closed captions?

As a content creator, you'll use closed captions more often than subtitles. Here’s why.

First of all, captions allow deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences to fully engage with video content that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

But the benefits of closed captions extend beyond just accessibility. Today, people watch videos on mute—whether they're on public transport, at work, or on the verge of dozing off during boring lectures. Captions help them follow along. 

Captions also enhance comprehension and are a must-have for educational creators. The written text helps your audience retain more—especially non-native speakers. From an SEO perspective, closed captions can help wider audiences discover your content. Plus, search engines can crawl and index the text from captions, which improves searchability. 

How to create closed captions and subtitles with Descript

With Descript, you don’t have to devote any mental energy to subtitles. One command and they’re ready

Descript offers automatic transcription with up to 95% accuracy, easy one-click captions, and an option to export caption files (SRT and VTT)  to video platforms.

Many platforms offer automatic captioning without editing tools. That means your video runs the risk of saying “defiantly showing up” instead of “definitely showing up.” 

Descript lets you check and edit closed captions before they’re published. You ensure that your spelling and punctuation are correct, avoiding embarrassing or confusing errors

Here’s how to start:

First, import or record your video.


Next, make any necessary edits to the video and transcript using three keyboard shortcuts—Z, X, and C. To change capitalization, click on a word and press Z; to change punctuation, click on a word and hit X until your desired punctuation pops up—Descript will toggle between a period, comma, and no punctuation.

To manually correct spelling and other mistakes, follow these steps:

  1. Double-click or highlight the word or section you want to correct.
  2. Click Correct in the script toolbar, or press C.
  3. Type in your correction.
  4. Finalize your edit:
    1. Hit Enter or select Correct to update this specific instance.
    2. Choose Correct All to apply the correction to all instances of the word or phrase in your project.

Correct text mode

To make a bunch of different corrections throughout your script, go into Correct text mode by pressing Opt+C (Mac) or Alt+C (Windows). As you edit, corrected words will become underlined in dotted grey as Descript syncs up the transcript and audio.



Finally, click Publish, then Export, then Subtitles (Yes, these are technically captions, but go with it), and choose whether you want an .SRT or .VTT file

Upload your file when you upload your video to your video platform of choice.

Want to try it out for yourself?

Closed captions vs. subtitles FAQ
What does CC mean in subtitles?

CC in subtitles stands for ‘closed captions.’ Closed captions provide a transcription of the spoken dialogue and also include descriptions of non-dialogue audio elements, such as sound effects, speaker identification, and music cues.

What is an example of a closed caption?

A closed caption example might look something like this for a scene from a TV show or movie:

[Sound of rain falling]

John: "I can't believe this is happening."

[Thunder rumbling]

Jane: "We need to find shelter."

[Soft music playing in the background]

Here, brackets indicate the scene's background sounds or music. Quotations are used to show dialogue, with the speaker's name set off to the left with a colon.





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