Captioning (or closed captions) is becoming increasingly popular with video producers and viewers alike in the age of content streaming. Originally designed for people with hearing difficulties, captions play a key role in accessibility and this is the most important consideration when using them.
However, as we discuss in this article, captions have become valuable to a wider group of audiences and the list of reasons to add them to your video content continues to grow.
Closed captions (CC) place text over video content to depict spoken dialogue for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, as well as additional contextual information. This includes identifying speakers and describing contextual sounds (e.g. door knocks, sirens, waves crashing, etc.).
Closed captions are different from subtitles, which simply provide text for spoken dialogue without any additional context. For a more detailed explanation of the differences between captions and subtitles, we have recently published this article on our blog:
With the obligatory definition covered, below we provide the top five reasons why adding captions to video content is always a good idea.
The core benefit of adding captions to video footage is that it makes this video content more accessible to wider audiences. Most importantly, captions make footage accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences (this is the original purpose of captioning) but, as we discuss in points #3, #4 and #5 in this article, captions can help video producers maximise reach through a variety of other audiences, too.
Not only that, but captions can also enhance the performance of video content by improving the viewing experience, increasing engagement and helping viewers to retain more information.
With the world’s deaf and hard-of-hearing population growing every year, this means that this audience is only getting bigger and more important from an accessibility perspective.
According to WHO data, almost 2.5 billion people are expected to have some degree of hearing loss with at least 700 million expected to require hearing rehabilitation by 2050. Moreover, more than 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss as a result of unsafe listening practices.
These forecasts factor for ageing populations around the world and environmental factors that are driving significant growth of the world’s deaf and hard-of-hearing population.
While deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences are the most important consideration with captions, they are not the only audience benefitting from them. A string of studies in recent years have found that many people prefer to watch video content with captions or subtitles.
In 2006, Ofcom ran a survey asking TV viewers in the UK about their watching habits and 80% said they used closed captions for reasons other than hearing loss. More recently, in 2019, Netflix revealed that “more than 80% of members use subtitles or closed captions at least once a month”. More recently, in 2021, captioning charity Stagetext found that 80% of viewers aged 18-25 said they use subtitles all or part of the time.
Time and again, audience research finds that many viewers choose to watch content with captions turned on, even if they don’t have any hearing issues.
Building upon the previous point, viewing data also shows that user preferences for captions is directly linked to improved video content performance. More and more studies are finding that captioned videos outperform those with no captions or subtitles.
First, here are a couple of quotes from a study titled Video Captions Benefit Everyone conducted by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA:
“Video captions, also known as same-language subtitles, benefit everyone who watches videos (children, adolescents, college students, and adults)”.
“More than 100 empirical studies document that captioning a video improves comprehension of, attention to, and memory for the video. Captions are particularly beneficial for persons watching videos in their non-native language, for children and adults learning to read, and for persons who are D/deaf or hard of hearing.”
The study references hundreds of studies showing captions improve viewers’ comprehension, attention, experience and memory of video content.
This is even more important in the digital age where people are bombarded by a constant stream of messaging. In that sense, captions can also be seen as a way to cut through the noise and enhance the performance of video campaigns in several ways:
- Viewers are more engaged: More people watch videos in full when subtitles are included.
- Subtitles increase social reach: Insight from landing page software provider Instapage finds that subtitled videos achieve 16% higher reach on Facebook where 85% of videos are watched on mute.
- Improved SEO: Although Google is working on technology that can interpret and understand dialogue in video, search engines still rely on text and metadata to “read” information in content, including captions added to YouTube videos.
This illustrates how captions are more important than ever in the digital age.
By including translated captions or combining captions with translated subtitles, you can expand the reach of your video content productions into foreign-speaking markets. This is a crucial strategy for companies operating internationally, allowing them to produce video campaigns for several language markets at once.
Captions and subtitles are the most cost-effective methods of video translation (although alternative approaches may achieve better performance in certain scenarios) and they can make video production more affordable.
However, it is not all about reducing costs, but maximising the value of reach for your budget. Compared to the costs of adding voice overs for just one language, including captions for more languages can make a difference in terms of expanding the reach of your content.