Image credit: Smithsonian

Way back in 1983, I got my first caption decoder. It was a box about the size of two stacked DVD players. (As shown in header photo from Smithsonian.)

Whenever I recorded TV shows, the captions burned into the video.

That means I could take the tape and watch the show on any player and see the captions.

There was one downside of the captions being permanent.

I couldn’t see the credits, guest stars’ names, or the weather report scrolling across the screen because the captions covered it.

However, I didn’t mind not being able to see who was leading in the elections. The newspaper and the news will announce the winners.

Now every TV comes with captions.

If the captions are on and the program has captioning, they magically appear.

You can turn them on and off at will.

In captioning your videos, you can do the same thing.

Two different types of captions

You can add burned-in captions also called open captions.

With these, captions appear on the video no matter what. You can’t turn them off and on.

Recorded shows today are more like the second type of captions, which are closed-captions or text-based captions. You can turn them off and on.

Here, captions are in a text file with a time code to tell the captions when to show up on the video.

Both have good and bad points.

Advantages of open captions

Let’s start with open captions.

With these, you control where in the video the captions appear.

This way if you have any text on your video, you can make sure the captions don’t cover up this information.

Sometimes you can control the font style and color of the captions. Unfortunately, these aren’t always readable for the viewer. More on that in a moment.

The captions will always show up and no one needs to turn it on and off.

So people who scroll, scroll, scroll through their feeds on their phone will instantly know when a video has captions. Mostly … sometimes the captions don’t show up right away.

These are not deaf and hard of hearing people. In fact, 80 percent of people who use captions aren’t Deaf or hard of hearing. [Source: OfCom]

Furthermore, 80 percent of viewers react negatively to videos autoplaying with sound. [Source: Facebook] So now, some social media outlets now autoplay videos on silent. Others, like LinkedIn, let you choose. (Be sure to do set it on both the desktop and mobile version of LinkedIn.)

Disadvantages of open captions

Now for the drawbacks. There are some people who don’t want captions and they can’t turn it off.

One of the popular tools for adding open captions does not give the producer any choice of colors. The font is white with no background. So if the captions hover on a light background, it’s hard to read the text as shown in the following image.

Unreadable captions
Unreadable captions

One of the most important factors of good captions is that they’re readable.

But the biggest drawback is that it’s not optimized for search engines.

Burned-in captions are like images. Search engines can’t read it like they can read a text file.

On YouTube, you can search for only videos that have captions as shown in the following image.

YouTube search for captioned videos

Videos with open-captions will not show up in the YouTube Subtitles/CC search unless there is a text file associated with it.

However, sometimes that’s not important. When producers upload videos to Facebook and LinkedIn, there’s no search tool to indicate whether the video is captioned or not.

Advantages of text-based captions

Text-based captions have one huge advantage.

They have a text file that search engines can read easily.

And this helps your video with search engine optimization.

The bad thing is that you — the video creator — can’t control how the captions look, but the viewer may be able to.

For example, CBS.com, ABC.com, and Hulu allow me to set the font size, type, style, color, opacity, and other things.

Disadvantages of text-based captions

Text-based captions can also sometimes cover up any text that appears on the video.

However, video producers can make sure that doesn’t happen.

Sometimes people may not realize the video has captions because they don’t have captions turned on.

This can be a problem when people on their phones are scroll, scroll, scrolling through looking for videos with captions. They may not realize a video has captions and they need to turn them on.

The following video shows you how to turn on captions on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook.

Plus creating, downloading, and uploading the text file with the captions can be complicated for some people.

Whichever you choose, thank you for captioning your videos.

That’s what matters most.

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