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Video Subtitles: Why and How

...let’s look at this from a positive angle where we outline what’s needed, opportunities that comes with this and concrete tips on how to take this on.

Subtitling videos...

…love and hate… 

Most of you are already aware about the legal consequences that comes from the web accessibility directive and that by September 23rd this year, all video content published by a public organization or company must be subtitled. 

So instead of nagging about this, or painting scary scenarios related to the enormous task ahead etc, – let’s look at this from a positive angle where we outline what’s needed, opportunities that comes with this and concrete tips on how to take this on.  

So let’s first of all set the scene….  

FACT – By September 23rd 2020, all video content published on public organizations/companies websites must have subtitles. Currently, you don’t need to subtitle Live broadcasts, BUT a subtitled on-demand version needs to be made available within 14 days from the Live broadcast. The new law also requires that video published by public organizations/companies via third parties, such as social media channels, need to be made accessible “as much as possible”.  

In practice, this means that a minimum requirement of subtitling will apply on all published videos, even on social media channels. 

As a viewer you may not always spend so much time on thinking about how subtitling works. You either see a subtitle or you don’t. However, there are a couple of “semi-technical” things that you, as publisher, need to know about subtitling in order for you to live up to the accessibility requirements. 

You might have heard the two terms “Open Caption” and “Closed Caption”? Surprisingly easy to mix up even though they are two totally different things. 

"Open Captions"

“Open Caption” means that the subtitles are “burned” into the video as graphics, which means that you have to make a video per language version. These captions are often made in video editors, and then “rendered out” together with the video into a singular file. Because of this, open captions cannot be turned off, and cannot be “read” by external software.

"Closed Captions"

“Closed Caption”  (abbreviated CC – which is often used in player icons) means that the subtitles are stored as separate text files – meaning that you can have several text files (one per language) connected to the same video. In order for this to work you need to use a video platform and a video player that supports this format. If so, your viewers can then activate/de-activate subtitling in the player as well as choose between different languages (if available).  

Closed Captions is most widely used and from an accessibility perspective the preferred option. However, not all video platforms or social media channels supports this so you most likely need to be able to handle both. As of today, most major social media channels support Closed captions with the exception of Instagram.   

The two most common file formats used for Closed Captions are SRT and WebVTT.     


SRT (.srt) is an abbreviation of “SubRip Subtitle” and launched in 2003. SRT files are fairly easily constructed and do have some limitations for formatting the text. You have the options between using bold, italic and underline as well as placement of the text in the video image.


WebVTT (.vtt) is an abbreviation of “Web Video Text Track” and is the web standard for displaying time-coded subtitles along with HTML5 elements. WebVTT is used, among other things, by cloud-based video platforms and enable a bit more flexibility of the subtitles. WebVTT can contain audio description, text formatting and positioning. There are also several playback options that can be selected in the video player, such as color of text, choice of different font, background color and transparency of the text pad, (etc.).

How to get started

So with these facts covered, how can you get started? 

There are a couple of ways to do this in practice: 

Manual transcription and subtitling

It is what it sounds like. You – or even better: your colleague 😊 – needs to watch through the video and type down every single word spoken, note the time of what’s being said when and then potentially translate everything into X number of languages. Once you’ve done that you then need to decide if this should be in the format of Open or Closed Captions.  

For those of you that have tried this, you know that this is a time consuming and painful exercise. Also, don’t fool yourself into thinking that your time spent on this is free. If you start counting, there are significant costs related to this working process. 

Let someone else do it for you

There are many transcription and translation bureaus out there that would love to help you. They normally charge you per the hour or a special rate per word. Regardless you’ll find that it will cost you between €100 – €200 per hour worked (not hours of video), often with a minimum charge of one hour.  

Auto-transcription and translation tools

As with translation bureaus, it’s a jungle out there with different types of tools and apps. Some only doing transcription but not subtitling, some for audio only and some are free. To go through them all would be a blogpost on it’s own. So instead, let’s focus on what will do the work for you when it comes to video. 

You need a tool that will help you with the following: 

  • Auto-transcription – Meaning that you upload your video file and you’ll get a text transcription back. 
  • Synchronized/time coded text – Subtitles must match the speed of the person talking. The tool needs to time code each spoken word and match this with the transcribed word. This will also enable each word to be indexed and searchable if needed.  
  • Editing – There is no such thing as a 100% fault proof transcription. There will always be specific names, pausing or specific words that you would like to change and the tool should have an editing function to handle this.   
  • Translation – The tool should enable to you easily translate your edited subtitles to different languages. 
  • Packaging – You want a “one stop shop” tool that will package your subtitles together with your video in a one click, ready to publish.      

In order to cope with the rapidly increasing need to communicate via video, you need to ensure a well thought through working process for subtitling and our conclusion is that you should base this around option 3 above. This will be the most flexible and cost efficient option and if needed you can perhaps now and then use the other two options. 

In this post we’ve gone about subtitling from a regulatory accessibility perspective. However, don’t forget that subtitling is almost equally a MUST HAVE for anybody. Most videos are viewed on phone devices – and most videos on phone devices are viewed without sound. Also, in the global world of today, you often need to reach an audience that doesn’t necessarily speak/understand your own language.  

All of this means that subtitling your video content will be absolutely crucial for your content/communications strategy. 

As part of Qbrick’s video platform we’ve included a complete transcription/subtitling tool called “Speech To Text”. (Watch the video to find out more) 

Contact us if you want to know more about how this works – and let us help you to become more accessible with Qbrick!    

Let’s talk about your video strategy.

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