The Case for Closed Captioning

Growing up, I think we all have that moment when we choose not to watch something specifically because it has subtitles. Missing a frame’s entire message leads to heightened concentration, which leads to aggravation, and eventually alienation from the core of the content.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I’ve ended up offering subtitling services as a freelancer. I’ve produced subs extensively for VICE US and UK on a handful of projects originating in francophone territories (Congo, Senegal, Quebec, France, Haiti and Switzerland to name a few). Through my work, I’ve learned to better appreciate subtitles as a bridge for maintaining message authenticity and as a straightforward way to scale-up inclusiveness and engagement.

Simply put, closed captions help:

  • Connecting to a broader or an international audience by eliminating the language barrier. The best subtitles will even retain some (but certainly not all) of the content’s nuance. Finding cultural equivalence is a beautiful thing and closed captions are a super tool for building loyal overseas consumers into your viewership.

  • The hearing impaired to access your message. At its best, content is as inclusive as possible. Yours does not have to lose its voice relative to those who are unable to hear it.

  • To improve SEO. Adding captions to videos on YouTube can significantly improve views. Check out this study for the details.

  • Building authentic foreign voices into your content. Take your interview vlog abroad and come home with something special that everyone can enjoy.

  • People in sound-sensitive situations to consume your content. At work, in the train, or while waiting in literally any line anywhere. Captions are efficient ways for making sure you’re not scrolled through because of inconvenience.

  • Language learners to progress thanks to your content. It’s a great way to be remembered and talked about.

  • Build a subtle layer of empathy into your messaging by showing that you care about your audience’s ability to understand what you’ve crafted. Even if they opt out of using them, people love having options.

Also, as we watch more content on handheld or laptop-sized screens, the travel time between subtitle and image is diminishing, making the case for adding them to any video even stronger. There’s a reason Netflix spent last March sourcing the “best translators” in the world, and I promise you it wasn’t just for bragging rights.

P.S. Below is a clip for VICE HBO about Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I produced the subtitles of the French interviews. Enjoy!