Closed captioning

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Captioncenter logo

The "CC in a TV" symbol, created at WGBH in 1986.

Closed captioning or subtitling is the process of displaying text on a television, video screen or other visual display to provide additional or interpretive information to individuals who wish to access it. Closed captions typically show a transcription of the audio portion of a program as it occurs (either verbatim or in edited form), sometimes including non-speech elements.

Ncicap logo

The National Captioning Institute's "Speech Balloon" symbol.

Pop-On Captioning

A pop-on caption is usually one or two rows long. When a sentence must be divided into two or more captions, it is usually broken at a logical phrase rather than at a random point.

Popup caption1

Part one of a sample pop-up caption.

Popup caption2

Part two of a sample pop-up caption.

Identification Placement

Captions are used not only to convey what is being said, but also who is saying it and how it is being expressed. These attributes may be indicated via the placement and timing of the text.

When considering the placement of captions, keep in mind what action is occurring in a given scene. If only one person talks throughout a scene, captions are generally placed at bottom center. If there are multiple characters in a scene, caption placement on or near individual speakers is used to indicate who is saying what.

Under normal circumstances, a speaker is identified through the placement of his/her caption. When it is not possible to use placement to indicate the speaker (i.e., if the speaker is offscreen), an ID may be added to the caption. Since this is not spoken information, it should be distinguished in some way from captioning representing the rest of the soundtrack.

Idplacement wgbh

WGBH's method of ID placement. As of 2000, the ID placement is in all capitals, as the dialogue is no longer in all capitals.

Idplacement nci

NCI's method of ID placement. As of 1996, they removed the brackets and added a colon, almost like how WGBH did it.

Sound effects

Sound-effect captions are used to describe sounds that add to the narrative. As with IDs, these are not words actually contained in the audio and should be distinguished as such.

Sound-effect captions may also be used to indicate the source of the sound through the use of placement. Such captions may be used to describe the manner in which something is spoken.

Soundeffect wgbh

WGBH's method of captioning sound effects. As of 2007, the description of the sound effect is usually no longer in italics.


NCI's method of captioning sound effects. This screenshot was taken from a music video of "Gourmet Race to Green Greens: Chamber Music" from Kirby's Dream Collection for the Wii.

Programs closed-captioned by WGBH

Programs closed-captioned by the National Captioning Institute

  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
  • The Amanda Show (TV airings)
  • Arthur (Sony Wonder VHS/DVD releases)
  • Barney and Friends (1992-1993)
  • The Magic School Bus (TV airings on PBS)
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1988-1993)
  • Reading Rainbow
  • Sesame Street
  • Shining Time Station (TV airings)
  • Sonic Christmas Blast
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM)
  • Sonic Underground

See also

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