What Qualifies as High Quality Closed Captioning?

By: Aylin Dunham
captioning high quality

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The humorous quality of closed captioning is getting a lot of attention these days in the form of internet memes. To some people closed captioning has largely become a joke. But after you’ve had a few laughs, take a moment look at the captions again and see if you can understand what the captions are really supposed to say. It isn’t that easy. If you’re someone who wants or actually needs captioning, inaccurate closed captions are probably not very funny after a while.


People who depend on closed captioning are questioning why the quality is so bad. The truth is a lot of companies are using low cost captioning, thinking it will be good enough to meet the minimum requirements of captioning law. In many cases, captioning quality even slides below this bar, and with minimal enforcement, companies often get away with it. The FCC depends on viewer complaints to enforce captioning laws, but a lot of people don’t know how to submit a complaint, and if they do, chances are they don’t have the time or patience to fill out the captioning quality complaint forms properly.

Companies hiring closed captioning services need to understand the methods used to create captions and how they compare. These services can be as low as $1.00 per minute, but the methods used by low-end service providers are not sufficient when it comes to caption accuracy and intelligibility. With a little more investment, there are methods proven to provide a much higher quality captioning accuracy rate.

Closed Captioning Accuracy

Research shows that the comprehension rate of captions drops dramatically with error rates over 3%. Inexpensive methods at best have an accuracy rate of 95% and are sometimes as low as 60% accurate. Speech recognition technology is not yet advanced enough to reach accuracy rates over 95%, and other methods using untrained transcribers also fall short. Using trained professional transcribers is the only method used today that is reliable and consistently produces high quality closed captioning with above 98% accuracy.

High Quality Captioning

So what does high quality captioning look like? To keep your viewers who depend on closed captioning happy, and to meet legal requirements, there are several quality control issues to look for, and even ways you can go above and beyond the captioning quality standards.

Minimum Requirements for High Quality Captioning

Accuracy: Closed captioning should match all spoken words, lyrics and sounds, without paraphrasing. Careful attention must be paid to correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization, unless slang and grammatical errors are intentionally used in the video. Nonverbal sounds should also be captioned such as background music, audible reactions, and sound effects. Basically, all audio that is relevant to the viewer getting the full effect of the video without sound, should be communicated to the fullest extent possible.

Placement: It is important to place the closed captioning in a way that does not block any important visual content. This includes faces, graphics, credits, text news updates and any other information that is essential to understanding the video. Although captions are generally placed at the bottom of the screen, there are many cases where it is more effective to move them to the top. Lines of captions should always be large enough to read, without overlapping.

Synchronization: With the speed of speech in some videos, it is difficult to match words to their corresponding captions. Whenever possible, captions should begin to appear at the same time that the sound begins and also end at the same time to the greatest extent possible. Exceptions can be made if the captions are too fast to read, and must be slowed down.

Completeness: Captions should show from the beginning of the video, to the end, without missing words or sounds.

Captioning Quality Above and Beyond Legal Requirements

Transcripts: Especially in educational videos, viewers of online videos appreciate a transcript to follow while the video is playing. With some video players, a transcript is provided on the side or underneath and will highlight the spoken words and audio as they are played.

Search: Also when a transcript is provided it is helpful to have a search feature in your video player. This is helpful in the cases where a video is very long and the viewer wants to skip to a part with a certain subject.

Both those who depend on captioning and those who use it by choice will appreciate the efforts to provide high quality closed captioning, especially when there are extra helpful features to help them understand the video.