Consumers Want Captions, So Brands and Agencies Should, Too

By Peter Salib Peter Salib has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on June 14, 2023

Have you noticed them more recently? Those little words taking up some real estate at the bottom of your TV and phone. Words that help you understand what the heck those British guys are saying.

Across social media, streaming services, and even traditional cable TV, audiences have captions turned on. But you know who hasn’t seemed to notice? Brands. The industry most keen to understand its audience is taking note of what people are watching while inexplicably ignoring how they’re watching. According to a recent study from Verizon and Publicis Media, 80% of viewers are more likely to watch an entire video when captions are available. What used to be preferred is now a demand, and brands and content creator agencies that want to reach consumers need to speak to them on their terms. 

Though captioning and subtitles were initially intended as a crucial accessibility tool for Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, 69% of all US consumers watch videos without sound. According to the same study, 80% of consumers are more likely to finish a video if captions are available. Brands and creators no longer rely on impressions as a metric of audience engagement, but look for actions on the page, click-through opportunities, and bounce rate. If captions are what’s keeping 80% of consumers interested in watching a video until the end, brands and creators need those captions to fulfill even the most basic of their audience engagement goals. 

On Mobile Devices, Captions Are Already Standard

TikTok influencers and YouTubers with huge followings have made a point to include captions in their content and advocate for others to do the same. Captions drive 28% longer view times, according to Twitter research, and videos that don’t require sound to be understood deliver 180% higher ROI.

Brands Should See the Lasting Effects of a Message Spelled Out

The growing demand for captions and subtitles is true of all demographics, but Gen Z is leading the charge, as 80% of viewers aged 18-25 watch all or most of their videos with captions or subtitles on. Millennials aren’t too far behind, where 64% of viewers aged 26-35 report the same. Brands across the film industry and agencies representing content creators will be the first groups under scrutiny if they don’t provide captions to audiences. 

Brands within the film industry, whether that be production companies, franchises, or other stakeholders, should have already seen that part of consumers’ preference for captions is to understand the video’s message in its entirety. A Preply survey found that unclear audio or, separately, foreign accents are the top reasons why people prefer to watch with subtitles or captions. It helps audiences better understand what’s happening on screen, especially if they’re watching shows with hyper-local accents like Peaky Blinders or action movies that fluctuate between explosions and whispered conversations. 

The study also found that viewers are watching with captions on because of a desire for increased focus: Reading dialogue and on-screen descriptions while listening to the audio source has become a compelling way for viewers to consume and understand video content. 

The Desire for Not Just Captioned Content, but Captioned Art

Humans have adapted, and captions are no longer seen as a distraction from the content. On the contrary, good captioning can uplift artistic meaning and introduce a new form of creativity in the video medium – and, at the very least, ensure the integrity of the story is understood. Content creators are turning to agencies for representation. These companies have an opportunity to elevate their clients’ reach, seeing as captions not only make their art more accessible but add to the stories they’re telling.

For example, the captions in season four of Netflix’s Stranger Things included poetic, descriptive language to underline the sensory horror of the show and was heralded by critics as a testament to the potential for delightful creativity in subtitles and captions. Audiences loved it: The best descriptive captions from the season went viral, inspiring memes and driving fan discussion online. In addition, the success of films like Oscar winners CODA and Parasite indicates that audiences are comfortable with a little reading if it means they can have a true understanding of the story and experience it to its fullest integrity. 

Agencies have an incredible opportunity to inspire their artists to caption content, not just to fulfill a social expectation but for its potential to supplement the message and reach a wider audience in a meaningful way. 

Don’t Just Implement Captions, Improve Them

The rising ubiquity of captions also means an equally rising expectation of accurate captioning. Recent captioning misfires like the Korean mistranslation in Netflix’s Squid Game are frustrating for both creators and viewers. This is especially true of foreign language captions for English-speaking audiences. The Squid Game subtitling mistakes weren’t inconsequential errors: Korean viewers reported that the English subtitles glossed over some of the show’s most important motifs and even shifted the meaning of some characters’ dialogue and characterizations in offensive ways.

Language is complicated and deeply influenced by cultural and social norms; when subtitles are hastily prepared or inconsiderate of cultural nuance, often because captioners rely solely on AI, they can misconstrue meaning and, in the worst cases, duplicate harmful stereotypes. We’re in an AI-first world, but it has to be reinforced AI to meet the quality demands of the audience. By involving humans who can identify nuance, we can avoid these potentially harmful scenarios while elevating the quality of the caption.  

Though brands across the film and content industries may question the time and cost to incorporate captions into their video content, the process has dramatically improved in recent years. 

Modern audiences want accurate, thoughtful, and consistent captions and subtitles on videos, and as that feature becomes more prevalent, it will be standard. Captioning video content is faster, affordable, and more accurate than ever, meaning there’s no reason not to invest in a sought-after feature that will increase not only content’s accessibility but also its global reach and influence. 

Tools of the Trade

In the evolving world of transcription and captioning services, there are numerous tools that can significantly influence the quality and efficiency of our work. Among the leading platforms in this industry are Rev.com and Otter.ai, each offering unique features and benefits to cater to a range of user needs. In this section, we explore the offerings of each platform to help you determine which could best serve your requirements.

Rev.com is a versatile online transcription platform designed to cater to a broad spectrum of users, from startups to large enterprises. Established by a group of MIT classmates in 2010, Rev.com has evolved into a leading speech-to-text service, serving over 750,000 users worldwide.

The platform provides a variety of services, including human and automated transcription, captions, transcripts, and subtitles in more than 15 languages. Rev.com’s human transcription services boast a 99% accuracy rate, while the AI-powered automated transcription services offer quick turnaround times with a 90% accuracy rate.

Adding to its range of offerings, Rev.com provides English closed captioning, global translated subtitles, and live captions for Zoom meetings. The platform supports a wide array of file types and also offers a mobile app, enabling users to record audio and send it directly for transcription.

Rev.com also provides a free trial for newcomers to explore the platform’s capabilities​.

Otter.ai is another prominent player in the field of transcription and captioning services. This platform focuses on providing automated transcription services, making it an excellent tool for individuals and organizations seeking to transcribe meetings, interviews, and other audio files.

Supporting English language transcriptions, Otter.ai offers high accuracy rates contingent on the clarity of the speech in the audio file. A unique feature of Otter.ai is its ability to generate live, interactive transcripts of meetings in real time.

For those looking for a budget-friendly option, Otter.ai provides a basic service that allows users to transcribe a certain amount of minutes per month. The platform also offers premium and team plans that provide a suite of advanced features​.

By Peter Salib Peter Salib has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Peter Salib is a Tech Columnist at Grit Daily. Based in New Jersey, he is an avid participant of events nationwide who's attended CES in Las Vegas consecutively since 2013. Peter is the host and producer of Show & Tell, a product showcase YouTube channel and also works at Gadget Flow, a leading product discovery platform reaching 31M consumers every month. Peter frequently works with startups on media, content writing, events, and sales. His dog, Scruffy, was a guest product model on the Today Show with Kathy Lee & Hoda in 2018 and was dubbed "Scruffy the Wonder Dog.”

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