What are captions?
Captions are text displayed on a television screen to describe the audio portion of a program. They help viewers who are deaf or hearing impaired or who have English as their second language. Sound effects, music and other audio cues are also incorporated in the captions so that all relevant information is available to the viewer. In this way they’re different from subtitles which just show a translation of the dialogue into English.
What is the difference between closed and open captions?
The two main types of captions are closed and open.
Closed captions give viewers the option of switching the captions on or off while watching a program. They are the most common form of captioning and can be identified by the [CC] symbol.
Open captions, also known as burned-in, baked on or hard-coded, are visible to everyone. Open captions are a permanent feature on a video and are most commonly used on safety films shown on aircraft and for subtitles on foreign language films.
Captions on TV
On free-to-air TV all news and current affairs programs are required to be captioned at any time of the day. In addition, any TV program shown between 6am and 12pm is captioned. Captions are also available on Pay TV channels such as Foxtel or Netflix. Some TV programs have prepared captions that appear in blocks of two lines of text, while news and current affairs programs are often captioned live by a stenocaptioner (using machine shorthand) or a re-speaker voice transcriber and appear a word or two at a time with a second or two delay.
How do you turn on closed captions on your TV?
Captions for TV are often available – these are indicated with CC in the TV guide.
Your remote control should have a button labelled CC or Subtitle.
Australian Communication and Media Authority YouTube videos
- Turning Captions On and Troubleshooting – issues with captions and how to solve them
- Behind the Scenes – how captions are made
Real-time captioning or CART
In seminars or meetings, a shorthand writer may be available at the location or remotely to record the session in real time while the live translated text is scrolling down a projected screen (usually separate from the display being used by the speaker).
This is known as real-time captioning or CART.
Captions are available for some films in movie theatres. Captions are usually delivered via a device that has a high contrast display and privacy screen so that only you can see them.
Check the websites of movie theatres near you to see what films and session times are tagged with a CC symbol.
Since 2005 in Canberra we have been lucky enough to have live theatre captioning for selected performances of each play in the subscription series at the Canberra Theatre Centre. Visit TheatreCaptioning.com.au/Venues-With-Captioning for a list of venues in Australia.
Captions are also available on DVDs. They are usually located in the DVD’s Subtitles menu. You don’t need any special equipment for this.
YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo
On Video sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, click on CC at the bottom of the video to turn on the captions. However, it is possible that captions have not been prepared and automatic speech recognition then attempts to create captions. But these captions can be extremely inaccurate and often look like gibberish.
Access to captioning
At present free-to-air television broadcasters are required to provide a captioning service on their main channel for all programs from 6 am to midnight each day and all news or current affairs programs transmitted at any time. The majority of programs outside those hours are not captioned.
We believe that captions should be compulsory. If you need captions and they are not provided, then you should take some action.
You can lodge complaints on these websites:
- Australian Communications and Media Authority captioning
- Media Access Australia
- Free TV complaints
It’s important to complain when captions are not provided or are substandard.