VoiceBox, Part of Wolfestone Group

Subtitling is an industry where although there are guidelines, nothing is set in stone as of yet so to a certain extent there can be quite a bit of freedom when subtitling your videos. However research has been done on what’s best for the viewer and how to optimise the video watching experience as much as possible.

Many broadcasters have their own guideline requirements such as BBC and Channel 4 but if you don’t know anything about subtitling and you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry your agency can advise you on how best to subtitle your project.

So what do you need to know?

Line length

It’s recommended that the subtitles should be on screen in no more than 2 lines in the middle of the bottom of the screen. This is to make it easy for the viewer to read and watch the scene at the same time. You don’t want the subtitles to distract the viewer. Nobody wants to be reading an essay while trying to watch an intensive action scene!\

Word Speed

Subtitles need to be concise so you need to consider the word speed. The average word speed should be approximately 150 – 200 words per minute or up to 37 characters per line for television shows. For films and online videos, you can have more characters. We typically don’t want subtitles on the screen longer than 3 seconds per line. Keep in mind that in order to do this the sentences may need to be restructured and adapted in order to fit in to the limited amount of characters.

And let’s not forget to mention that children need more time to read than adults. If you are producing a children’s television show, then the words need to be on screen a little bit longer.

Open or Closed?

Do you want open captions or closed captions? Open captions are subtitles that are permanently on the screen, while closed captions can be switched on or off. If you want to reach viewers that are hard of hearing or if you think that the video will be shown in a loud environment such as a pub or a restaurant, then really you would need subtitles that can’t be switched off (open captions).

Picture of an audience at a concert: subtitles can help reach people from around the world

Extra information for your audience

When considering text on screen you should consider if you want that added in to your subtitles. So for example if there are posters in the film that you feel is relevant to your video, you can consider adding the translation in as well. Also do you want audio description? This means words in parenthesis (or brackets to you and me) that describe other sounds taking place in the scene that aren’t dialogue. An example is ‘(Dog barking)’ and ‘(Phone rings).’ This is particularly important if you want to reach those with hearing impairments.

Know your viewers!

The most important thing for you to have in mind when subtitling a project is your audience. All of the points depend on this vital factor so that you know how to tailor the subtitles.

Also some countries prefer dubbing over subtitling. So be sure you know that subtitling is the preferred method in the country that you are targeting.

Don’t forget that the translation needs to be considered. You don’t just want a word for word translation but you need to know the culture that the video is being translated in so that it sounds believable to the audience that it is what the character would say.

Remember! If there are bad subtitles, the perception of the video can completely change, so getting the subtitles right is vital for your success.