What Does “Caption” Mean & Why Is Captioning Important?

By: Verbit Editorial
workspace setup with laptop and lights and paperworks on a table

If you regularly consume any kind of video content, the odds are you’re already familiar with captions. What started as a tailor-made solution for the Deaf community has evolved into an everyday resource nearly everyone uses, at least sometimes. In fact, recent research suggests that close to 50% of US consumers watch videos with captions most of the time. 

In addition to supporting viewers with certain disabilities and specific learning needs, adding captions to video content is a great way to boost engagement and appeal to more diverse audiences. Let’s explore some of the ins and outs of incorporating captions into modern media projects and discuss why captioning content is a must for today’s creators and business leaders.  

Captioning basics and categories 

Captioning refers to the process of converting audio to on-screen text. Captions provide on-screen, readable versions of videos’ audio tracks to support viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Although both captions and transcripts offer text versions of audio from videos, they differ in an important way. Captions appear within a video’s viewing window and match the timing of the audio, while transcripts are full-text copies of the audio. 

When covering the basics of captions, it’s important to understand that a few different captioning styles are available to today’s content creators. The two main categories of captions are “closed captions” and “open captions.”  

Closed captions allow viewers to enable or disable a video’s captions at their own discretion. Typically, viewers can turn closed captions on and off via an on-screen menu or taskbar. Other times, they might need to use a physical button on a remote control. In most cases, the captions will appear as white text encased in a black box at the top or bottom of the screen.  

Open captions, on the other hand, will always be visible on a piece of media content. For this reason, open captions are often referred to as “burned in” or “baked in.” A viewer cannot disable open captions because they are permanently embedded into a video.  

The importance of captions as an accessibility tool cannot be overstated. Accurate captions can provide equitable viewing experiences to any audience member who cannot fully engage with a video’s original audio track. Individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing, for example, benefit significantly from the presence of closed captions because captions make it possible for them to follow along with a video’s messaging in real-time. 

The origin and evolution of captions  

The history of captioning as we know it first began in the early 1970s when television networks started including open captions on some of their programming. Around the same time, development began on closed captioning technology, and PBS successfully encoded closed captions into their broadcasting in 1973.  

The original closed caption format (commonly referred to as CEA-608) was designed for analog televisions. These 608 captions were transmitted as hidden data via Line 21 to viewers’ television sets. Digital television formally replaced analog in the United States in 2009, leading to updates in captioning methods. This new caption format, CEA-708, transmits via MPEG video streams. 708 captions offer enhanced customization options for appearance and formatting. Anyone using an analog television set could not view 708 captions as the technology isn’t compatible.  

Since its inception, and despite significant changes in broadcasting technology, closed captioning has become a commonplace resource for television viewers worldwide. However, the evolution of captions continues, and over the last several decades, online video, social media and streaming services ushered in more changes. To support evolving web accessibility guidelines, content creators must add accurate captions to their video content – regardless of its format or platform. Most major media hosting sites allow users to upload their caption files to support their media content. Other platforms even provide auto-caption functionality so that closed captioning solutions are readily available to consumers.  

The diverse uses of captions  

While captions in media initially supported the needs of those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, it’s an increasingly important tool for offering more equitable experiences to viewers with a wide range of disabilities and specific learning needs.  

Remember: Closed captioning for videos provides a word-for-word representation of a video’s audio track. This differs from other kinds of captions – like captions in photography – that provide a description or summary of an image. Any time you produce and share information via video, offering corresponding closed captions is important to provide equitable messaging for all.   

Many professionals rely on video content to share information both internally and externally. Captions support all of these communications. Not only do captions improve accessibility for viewers with disabilities, but they can also improve audience engagement across the board. For example, many creators now recognize that including captions in social media videos and advertisements can boost click-through rates and increase overall watch time. In response, many social media platforms and media hosting sites developed user-friendly captioning workflows to support the needs of their users.  

How to create engaging captions 

When it comes to writing captions effectively, the most important factor to consider is accuracy. To support critical accessibility guidelines, closed captions must achieve exceptionally high accuracy rates. Error-riddled captions do not provide equitable messaging or experiences to viewers who require additional support to engage meaningfully. Captioning errors can also be embarrassing and even offensive. In many cases, they will negatively impact a consumer’s perception of a brand.  

Creating accurate video captions to support your viewers’ diverse needs means partnering with a professional captioning provider like Verbit. Verbit’s dual approach to captioning and transcription focuses on accuracy and efficiency and can support various media projects and communications.  

When you upload a video to Verbit’s platform, the captioning process will follow these steps:  

  • Step 1: Verbit’s proprietary artificial intelligence software transcribes the video. 
  • Step 2: Verbit’s professionally trained human transcribers edit the transcript. 
  • Step 3: The most effective caption techniques convert the transcript to timed captions. 
  • Step 4: The file becomes available for download with the caption text and the corresponding time codes.  
  • Step 5: A user can upload the caption file to their desired social media platform or video hosting site to boost accessibility and improve the video’s reach.  

In addition to producing captions for recorded video content, Verbit also offers live captioning solutions for virtual and in-person communications. These solutions help in professional and academic environments and support content creators who connect with audiences through live streaming.  

television on a tv rack with bookshelves

The impact of captions on SEO and accessibility  

By now, it’s probably easy to see why captions and accessibility go hand-in-hand. In addition to meeting the needs of viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing, closed captions support viewers who:  

  • Have ADHD or auditory processing disorders  
  • Have certain neurodivergent conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder  
  • Are consuming video content in a non-native language 
  • Are unable to watch a video with the sound on 
  • Are tuning in to watch a video in a noisy environment  
  • Are affected by poor internet connection or audio quality  

An ever-increasing number of consumers regularly watch videos on mobile devices or in public. Adding closed captions to video content can help to ensure that every viewer receives the same message – even if they can’t fully hear or understand the audio.  

Closed captioning can also improve brand awareness and increase engagement. One of the ways closed captioning makes this possible is by boosting a brand’s SEO ranking. Due to its multimedia nature, search engines can’t “crawl” video content. However, if a video contains closed captions, search engines can index the text of the captions, and SEO rankings can improve as a result.  

A recap on captioning

To recap: Captions (meaning on-screen textual representations of auditory information) are an increasingly necessary tool for any content creator or business leader looking to communicate more effectively with diverse audiences. The significance of captions as an accessibility tool is increasingly apparent as society continues to embrace new ways of sharing information in person and online.  

Whether you’re looking to improve the accessibility of your content, increase your viewership or boost your brand’s SEO ranking, incorporating closed captions into your projects can help you achieve your goals. Verbit’s seamless software integrations, automated workflows and bulk-upload capabilities make getting accurate, professional-quality captions quick and easy. If you’re interested in learning more about how captioning solutions can help you communicate more effectively, reach out to get started with Verbit