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Closed Captions vs Subtitles: The Difference & When to Use Each

Subtitles and closed captions may be similar, but they’re not the same. Understanding the differences is an essential part of making the most of your content.
Ortal Hadad
Content Specialist & Blog Editor
Last Updated:
April 4, 2023
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

Subtitles and closed captions may be similar, but they’re not the same. Understanding the differences is an essential part of making the most of your content. 

Closed captions are a great way to make your content more accessible and amp up your SEO ranking.  On the other hand, subtitles are essential for ensuring even foreign-language speakers can enjoy your content. 

Working out the differences between subtitles vs. closed captions isn’t always as easy as we’d like. But this guide offers a simple overview and explains when and how you should use each type. 


  • Subtitles are more for viewers who don’t understand the dialogue language in the audio. They can be burned onto your video file or uploaded in a separate file. 
  • Closed captions convey all audio and are always in a separate file to your video. 
  • You can use a transcription service or software to generate subtitles and closed captions or opt for a quicker solution with Riverside. 

What’s the difference between subtitles vs closed captions? 

You’ll often hear people use subtitles and closed captions interchangeably. This is because they both convey a video’s audio in written form on the screen. But even though they perform a similar role, they’re actually not quite the same thing. 

What are subtitles?

Subtitles are most common in foreign-language content. Their principle aim is to ensure that the viewer can understand any dialogue in a video. You can burn them into the video for a permanent display, like open captions. Alternatively, you can upload them in a separate file, like closed captions. 

What are closed captions?

Closed captions are video captions that exist on a separate file from your video. Your viewers can turn captions on or off when watching your content. Captions also reflect all audio in your video. This extends beyond dialogue to sound effects and other background noise. 

Should you use closed captions or subtitles?

Closed captions and subtitles are better suited to different contexts and types of content. Let’s take a look at the best times to use each type: 

Why should you use subtitles?

Subtitles are best for foreign language speakers or if you’re trying to expand your reach into international markets. They’re not necessarily for making content accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Why should you use closed captions?

Closed captions are more versatile. Since they convey all audio details, they’re essential for making your content as accessible as possible. 

Since they also exist on a separate file to your actual video, your viewers can turn them on and off by choice. Lastly, since they exist on a separate file to your video this means that search engines can index them to strengthen your content’s SEO performance. 

Ways to create your own subtitles and closed captions 

Whether you’re creating subtitles or closed captions, your options are pretty similar. Let’s take a look at the best ways: 

Transcription services vs. transcription software

A lot of professional transcription services offer both (closed) captioning and subtitling services.

Closed captioning is where a service generates a transcription of your video that conveys all audio details in written form. This means that your transcription will include dialogue as well as any other relevant sound effects or background noise. 

Subtitling, by contrast, is where your transcript only reflects dialogue. Also, subtitles can either be ‘burned onto’ your video file or exist in a separate ‘side-car file’ like closed captions.  

Subtitles with Transcription Services 

When it comes to generating subtitles using a transcription service, you need to know exactly what kind of subtitles you want to find a platform that can fulfill your needs. 

As we’ve touched on, there are two ways of attaching subtitles to your videos. You can either ‘burn’ them into your video file or upload them in a standalone file. If you choose the latter option, you must check the optimal file format for your target platform. Common file formats like .SRT should be compatible with most platforms, though. 

If you want translated subtitles or subtitles for foreign language audio, you’ll need to seek out a service that offers your specific target language. 

Closed captions with transcription services 

If you’re looking to create captions for your videos using a transcription service, consider whether you want AI or human transcription and the file format you want to export your transcription into. 

Transcription Software

Alternatively, instead of working with a third-party service, you can DIY your captions or subtitles using an AI transcription software like Riverside’s. This is often more cost effective and quicker, though you may need to spend some time perfecting the transcription. 

Riverside transcriptions: Reliable transcripts for subtitles & captions

Riverside’s highly accurate and fast AI transcription generator reduces the time you need to spend thinking about captioning or subtitling your video. With Riverside, transcriptions become a natural part of your workflow since it’s an integrated feature. 

Riverside can transcribe audio in over 100 languages and automatically differentiates between speakers so you don’t have to. 

Plus, since Riverside records each participant locally - on their own device rather than over the internet - your final recording is always going to be high-quality. This also translates to more accurate transcriptions. 

Once your Riverside transcript is ready, you can burn captions directly into your video, or you can export them as a .TXT or .SRT file. If you are looking to repurpose your transcription into another type of written content, .TXT files are the way to go. Since .SRT files are time-stamped, they’re best for captioning. 

The best part is you can also use these transcriptions to edit your recordings. Any text you delete in your transcript, automatically removes the matching video and audio in your recording.

You can test our transcriptions with our free transcription tool, or sign up to start receiving transcripts automatically after recording.

FAQs on Subtitles vs Closed Captions

Why are subtitles called closed captions?

Though subtitles are often called closed captions, or used synonymously with them, they’re not actually the same. As we’ve seen, closed captions reflect all audio, whereas subtitles only convey dialogue. Secondly, closed captions exist in a separate file to your video, which means the viewer can turn them on and off. By contrast, subtitles can either be burned into your video file or uploaded separately like closed-captions. 

What does CC mean for subtitles?

CC stands for ‘closed captions’. You’ll usually see this button at the bottom of your screen, and you can press it to turn captions on and off when you’re watching. 

Do all countries use subtitles and closed captions the same?

The definitions we’ve outlined in this article are pretty universal. Subtitles are generally aimed at helping foreign-language comprehension. This means they’re appropriate for translating for foreign-language viewers or translating foreign-language audio in your video. 

What are the three types of captions?

There are a few different types of captions that you need to know about: 

  • Closed captions convey all your video’s audio details in written form. These captions are always uploaded in an independent file to your video. 
  • Open Captions, like closed-captions, reflect all audio details of your video. Open captions are burned into or ‘encoded’ onto your video file which means your viewers can’t toggle them on and off. 
  • Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing accomodate viewers who are unable to hear the audio. This means that they convey all audio details including dialogue, sound effects and background noise. 

Foreign language subtitles can either be encoded onto your video or uploaded in a separate file. The key difference between subtitles and captions, though, is that subtitles only convey dialogue.

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