Subtitling is a versatile solution to amplify the reach of your video content and make it available for a large number of audiences and different consumption patterns. Here we’ll cover the basics of this technique and its wide implementation options.
What is subtitling?
Subtitling is the practice of adding written text to a video to convey the dialog content, other linguistic elements that appear on the screen (such as a poster or a message written on a piece of paper), and the soundtrack (song lyrics, ambient sounds, voices of characters out of frame, etc.). Due to the demanding combination of technical and creative skills required, subtitling is a highly specialized task that must be carried out by professionals and with specific technologies and processes.
The result of this practice are subtitles, the text that usually appears at the bottom of the screen and seeks to replicate in writing what is being heard and seen, either in the original language or another. For subtitles to become the video’s “invisible partners,” the subtitler takes care of every detail; ensuring that the reading is fluid and the association of the text with the image and the audio occurs almost automatically.
How many types of subtitles are there?
There are several ways to classify subtitles, depending on whether the applied criterion is linguistic, technological, or refers to production conditions.
From a linguistic point of view, there is intralinguistic, interlinguistic, or bilingual subtitling:
- In intralinguistic subtitling, the subtitle language and the video language match. These are commonly used to make content accessible to audiences with hearing difficulties (subtitling for deaf and hard-of-hearing people or SDH), for social media, where the preview runs without sound, and for videos that will be broadcasted in environments without sound amplification. These types of subtitles are commonly referred to as “captions.”
- In interlinguistic subtitling, there is a translation process involved. The video is in one language, and the subtitles are in another. These are common in content intended for the entertainment of mass audiences in multiple countries.
- We also have bilingual subtitling, in which the subtitle is again translated, but appears in two languages simultaneously, one of which matches the original language of the audio. This type of subtitling is useful for regions where more than one language is spoken and is also often seen, for example, at international film festivals.
From a technical standpoint, captions can be classified as open or closed:
- Open (or non-optional) captions are named after the idea that they are “open to everyone”; they are embedded within the image, are always visible, and cannot be disabled. This modality is standard in video productions for highly specific and homogeneous audiences (such as a corporate video), and is preferred in situations where subtitling is critical and must remain unchanged and always visible.
- Closed (or optional) captions are activated by the viewer, who can choose when to use them or not and who can also select the language within the available options. This is usually the case for streaming service subtitles, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, or Hulu.
From a production process standpoint, there are offline and real-time subtitles.
- The former are prepared in advance. This technique can be applied as long as the video recording and its transmission are carried out separately in time, such as in movies, series, advertising, video games, institutional videos for companies, and educational or training content.
- The latter are created live along with video broadcasting and can be produced by humans or by automatic generation software. They are common in international live broadcasts (such as at press conferences by authorities from international organizations, company executives or celebrities, or world-renowned awards ceremonies).
Advantages of subtitling
When hiring subtitling services, versatility and cost become significant advantages. Here is a list of the opportunities this technique has to offer:
- It is more affordable than other forms of audiovisual translation because there are no voice recording costs.
- It extends content reach, making it available to audiences experiencing hearing difficulties.
- It grows digital content engagement. Many users prefer audiovisual content to that of a written format. So a website with subtitled videos that are accessible to multiple audiences becomes a strategic communication and sales asset.
- On the web, it also improves the user experience by providing customization options. Especially on streaming platforms, many users value having the opportunity to enable or disable subtitles and captions (even if the content is in their native language).
- It makes content for social networks more competitive. On social media, video previews are automatically played without audio. By adding captions, the audience can better understand the content topic and decide faster if they are interested.
- It is a solution to broadcast video content in locations that don’t support proper audio transmission (for example, a noisy place like a bus terminal, or a very quiet one, like a waiting room in a medical center).
- It can be added as a complement in videos whose soundtrack has technical issues of origin (old records, noise or general poor quality) to make it more understandable.
- It reaches audiences of non-native speakers that are trying to learn a language and is especially useful in communities with a large influx of immigrants.
Like all specialized solutions, subtitling also has limitations and application restrictions. Let’s take a look at the cases in which we do not recommend using it, or we advise consulting with your language provider for a more detailed analysis before making the decision:
- Videos for audiences who cannot read (children, illiterate, or low literacy population).
- Videos for visually impaired audiences, for whom the font size may be small or reading for a long time may be strenuous.
- Videos for audiences who have cognitive difficulties that affect their ability to process written language.
- Videos for audiences that, for reasons of a historical-cultural nature, may prefer dubbing.
- Instructional videos that demonstrate how to do a process, because subtitles may distract the audience from the main objective, which is to learn by viewing.
- Specialized technical content. Due to restrictions that are both temporal (matching text with visual sequence) and spatial (occupying a certain proportion of the screen), subtitling is a synthesis exercise. In cases of technical information, where every detail is essential, voice-over is preferable.
- Content that will be watched on small screen devices (the text becomes unreadable or occupies a large portion of the screen, covering the image).
- Content in which the emotional bond with the viewer is essential. For example, in advertising, dubbing is chosen since a message transmitted by a voice in the local language creates a more familiar sense and improves the connection with the brand.
The value of subtitles for your global content
Video content is gaining ground and is making its way to being the preferred choice for web audiences. Whether used in branding, advertising, or social media strategies, audiovisual content has proven successful in engaging and retaining audiences.
Subtitling videos is a simple and relatively inexpensive solution to delight today’s audiences with personalized options and amplify a brand’s arrival to new markets. They are also useful for improving the performance of internal communication content, such as institutional videos and educational and instructional content. Additionally, as organizations worldwide become increasingly aware of the needs of more inclusive materials, captioning for deaf and hard of hearing people can be a big step toward accessibility.
What to consider when hiring a subtitling provider?
As it is a highly specialized task, subtitling must be carried out by professionals who have the technical, technological, and creative skills necessary for an impeccable result. Choosing a qualified and experienced language service provider is critical.
To ensure that you are working with the right partner, you must verify:
- that they have specialists in audiovisual translation, who know the language and culture of the target audience and have experience in the topic and genre of the material to transform.
- that they work with specialized software, allowing them to adapt to the needs and technical parameters of any industry.
- that they have an ISO certification to ensure the quality of their processes and the qualification of the professionals involved in them.
- that they have operations led by a project manager who acts as a liaison and ensures that the final product meets the client’s requirements in terms of technical quality, delivery times, and assigned budget.
Subtitling is a highly complex technique that involves a large number of creative and technical parameters for its correct realization. The result is a resource of great value and versatility that allows organizations to improve the content’s performance and expand the reach to new audiences.
The goal of subtitles, as said in the industry, is to make them “invisible”; to accompany the video and blend into the visual and sound rhythm imperceptibly for the viewer. This much desired “invisibility” depends on an extensive scaffolding that combines expert talent, specialized technologies, proven processes, and coordinated management –ensuring on-time deliveries, within budget, and of the highest quality.