Improve video engagement with closed captioning

Video CaptionsClosed captioning is the ultimate form of video accessibility – providing people with the ability to understand your video content without listening to the audio. This is key for people who are auditory impaired or deaf and would otherwise find it difficult to follow along, but it can be beneficial for improving video engagement for a much wider range of viewers as well. 

Over the years, you’ve likely noticed more and more videos using what is known as “closed captioning.” But what exactly is closed captioning and how do you enable it on your video recordings

What is closed captioning?

Captions display the spoken dialog and other audio sounds in the video using text. These captions allow audience members to follow along, including those who are auditory impaired, deaf, or prefer to watch videos without sound (for whatever reason).

There are two main types of captions: closed captions and open captions. Closed captions are added with an external captions file along with the video file, so they can be turned off by the viewer. Open captions are hard coded to the video and are always in view.

A fantastic example of open captions is watching a YouTube video that has captions embedded into the video content – they’re on the screen no matter what. If you click the captions button, this will not turn them off. Close captions can be turned on and off as preferred, so one viewer may turn captions on to view the text, while another viewer may keep them off.

Closed captions vs. subtitles

Video CaptionsAlongside the two main types of captions (closed vs. open), there are also some similarities between closed captions and subtitles. Subtitles display the video dialog as text as well, but with a different purpose. While closed captions are used to help viewers who are hearing impaired understand the video, subtitles are used to help viewers understand the dialog in a different language.

Subtitles presume the audience member can hear those audio sounds already, but do not understand the language being spoken. As a result, subtitles only display text for the dialog, and translate it into other languages than what’s being spoken in the video. 

Closed captions are intended to not only document the dialog using text on the video, but also describe other sounds for full context on the audio. They provide speaker differentiation and descriptions of background noises such as phones ringing, car doors slamming, or other parts of the plot, which would be missed when someone is unable to hear the audio.

Video accessibility laws for closed captioning 

Closed captions are so important for video accessibility that they are required by law in many situations. Despite this, it’s good practice for all video recordings, whether you create YouTube videos, educational tutorials, or other content to add closed captions. This improves accessibility by allowing all viewers to understand the video content and helps you reach a larger audience.

There are multiple US laws that require closed captioning for video content, including:

  •     The Rehabilitation Act
  •     The Americans with Disabilities Act
  •     The Federal Communications Commission
  •     21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
  •     Certain State Laws

The Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act contain laws that apply to closed captioning.

Section 504 requires federal programs and activities, agencies, executive agencies, and the United States Postal Service to not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. These organizations must make “reasonable accommodations” for those with a disability.

Section 508 applies to the Federal Government, state governments, and states who receive funeral funding (the Assistive Technology Act). Section 508 states that all information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, is created to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The ADA applies at the state level, local, public, and other private entities, and certain public businesses. This included public venues, public transport, schools, Universities, museums, and other public areas.

Aids must be provided to those with disabilities, so in the case of those auditory impaired, this would include closed captioning on training videos and other work-related video content.

The Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) applies to television that is broadcast live. This also applies to faith organizations. Essentially, live television must be closed captioned to improve accessibility. This also applies to online videos.

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Many people are unaware that the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, or CVAA, for short, requires all previously aired television shows that are now available online to contain closed captioning.

If your content has never aired on television, then this act does not apply to you. For example, if you just create YouTube vlogs, then you do not necessarily need to use closed captions due to the CVAA. But if you had a show that aired ten years ago and it’s now streamed online, then you’re required to include captions.

Certain State Laws

In addition to federal laws, certain states also have laws that apply to public and private colleges, municipalities, and other institutions regarding accessibility and closed captions for videos. We recommend researching your state laws if you’re unsure whether you need to add closed captions to your videos.

How do closed captions improve video engagement?

Captions Improve Video EngagementHearing impairment is more common in the United States than many people may realize. Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

That’s a significant portion of the population that can benefit from closed captions to understand video content, regardless of whether it is required by accessibility regulations or not. Captions are beneficial for all videos to help expand audience size and improve viewer experience.

Additionally, studies have shown closed captions improve engagement with more video views, longer watch times, and better understanding of the information. For example: 


If you’re an educator who creates videos for your students, it’s essential to ensure that your videos are easy to understand and accessible for all learners. That’s why adding closed captions is so important for education, and often required by closed captioning laws. By captioning your videos, you can guarantee that all of your students can access the content, regardless of their hearing ability or computer audio quality.


Businesses that use video as part of their marketing strategy can benefit from adding closed captions to their videos to improve video engagement as well. Captions make your videos more accessible and the information can be indexed by search engines like Google and YouTube, which helps improve your video rankings and views to increase business.


Even individuals, such as social media influencers, can improve viewer experience and engagement by using closed captioning. The world of social media is a noisy one. There are so many videos and so much content vying for attention that it can be tough to get noticed. If you want your social media videos to stand out from the crowd, adding closed captions is a great way to do it.

Also, many people viewing social media videos don’t have the video audio on, so closed captioning provides additional flexibility for your audience to view your content. If you don’t have captions, your video may get passed up.

How to add closed captions to videos

closed captioningIf you’re considering closed captions for your video recordings, whether required by law for your organization or of your own choice to increase the accessibility and engagement of your videos, then there are a few things to consider, such as:

  • Accuracy
  • Readability
  • Implementation method

For starters, accurate closed captions are essential. They should match the dialog and audio sounds in the video at that time, and use proper spelling and grammar. In some cases, the accuracy even impacts whether the video is compliant with captioning laws.

Readability is just as important. The captions will show up on the video so they must be displayed in a way they can still be clearly read.

Another important aspect of closed captions is how they are added to the video. Closed captions can be added to videos manually or automated through speech-to-text auto caption functionality.

Adding closed captions to your videos has never been easier with the Screencast-O-Matic. There are four convenient methods to add closed captions to videos using Screencast-O-Matic: 

  1. Captions from file
  2. Speech to text
  3. Interactive captions editor or blank captions
  4. Scripted recordings

With any of these options, you can save your video to Screencast-O-Matic and then share it with closed captions, and you can also choose to save it to your device with open captions.

Captions from file

You can add closed captions to your videos by manually importing a caption file (.sbv or .srt files) using the Screencast-O-Matic screen recorder, video editor, or video hosting platform. The ability to add closed captions from a file is available to all Screencast-O-Matic users, on both free and paid plans. 

Captions File

Captions files must include all the captions text and time points for when the captions will display on the video. Usually this involves working with a video script that was already created, or manually transcribing the dialog, audio notes, and timing information to the captions file. 


Speech-To-Text Auto CaptionsIf you have a paid Screencast-O-Matic plan, you can automatically generate captions for your video using the speech-to-text feature of our screen recorder or video editor. Speech-to-text is often the fastest way to add closed captions to your videos. 

The speech-to-text auto caption feature will recognize spoken dialog in the video and transcribe it as text. You can then review and edit the auto generated captions using a white text box at the right of the screen. You can view our speech-to-text tutorial video for a visual demonstration of the process. 

Speech-to-text will transcribe the video dialog into text automatically but if you would like to include other audio notes in your captions, you will need to add them into the caption text box manually.

Interactive captions editor or blank captions

Screencast-O-Matic’s interactive captions editor, or blank captions, lets you create your own closed captions for each segment of your video in the screen recorder and video editor. Simply type your captions into the white text box at the right of the screen for a specific point of time in the video, as shown in this captions editor tutorial video. You can add other audio notes in addition to dialog to meet caption accessibility regulations. 

Add Video CaptionsScripted recordings

Finally, there’s scripted recordings, which are available in the Screencast-O-Matic screen recorder and video editor as well. Scripted recordings allow you to create video tutorials or lessons in a structured way, and then export your script as a captions file to use for closed captions.

You can import or type a script file, record video next to the text section, or use audio narration to build your closed captions. For more information on how to add closed captions to videos with the scripted recording tool, check out our scripted recording captions article.

Scripted Recording Captions

Closed captioning is all about improving accessibility

Adding closed captions to your videos allows you to offer ultimate accessibility to your audience, whether it’s YouTube vlogs, educational tutorials, or public informational videos, or any other type of online video.

More people will enjoy your videos, you cater to a wider audience, and you give users the option to watch videos using their preferred method. Closed captioning is an important part of video creation, regardless of whether they are required by law.

Sign up for Screencast-O-Matic’s screen recorder or video editor to add closed captions to your videos today.

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