Multimedia Localization: The Pros and Cons of Voiceover, Subtitles and Closed Captioning

Voiceover & Multimedia2 June 20213.2k

Have you ever wondered about videos and how they choose which ones have voice overs, which ones have subtitles, and which ones have closed captioning? Truthfully, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Communicating to your audience is important. With technology and video being at the forefront of how companies communicate, knowing the pros and cons of using voice overs, subtitles and closed captioning can help make the difference. With 73% of online-enabled consumers indicating they are more likely to purchase after viewing a video that explains the product or service, multimedia localization must be integrated into those pieces to not only engage customers, but deliver a robust customer experience in their language, on their terms.

Voice overs, subtitles and closed captioning are three of the most commonly used localization techniques that connect with customers. Finding the right one can quickly increase brand image and ROI. While they are often used, they each have their own pros and cons that could hinder its effectiveness. The key lies in knowing what to use and when to use it. Here’s some background on the three to provide a little more insight into which ones are more effective than others, depending on the situation. Let’s take a look:


Subtitles appear when you’re watching a video or movie. Those little words at the bottom of the screen? That’s a subtitle. Consumers can choose to leave them to gain more clarity or turn them off. The pro? It reaches a variety of audiences. Another advantage of using subtitles is the fact that the original audio track is preserved. Even when localized, you will be able to localize in the language as opposed to changing the voice. In subtitles, the main focus is the speech, so the effects of the dialog play a larger role than the other elements. The con? If the lines are too long, it takes up too much space and you lose the interest of the audience. Additionally, based on the particular region, those audiences may not read fast enough to keep up with what is being said. It’s best to keep subtitles as short as you can to leave room for language localization. Subtitles are more cost-effective and scalable, as translators can translate remotely without the need for specific voice actors, which occurs when dubbing. This is an advantage, as businesses can distribute thousands of hours of TV in a relatively short time, at low cost.

Closed Captioning

Closed captions describe the sounds, effects and music on screen for the hearing impaired. This occurs when you have the black boxes with the white type usually in the top corner or at the bottom. This usually appears when you press a button on your remote to see the text. You can either watch with closed captioning or turn it off. People who have trouble understanding certain things may want closed captioning on, or people who are doing more than one thing at a time. Have you ever seen someone talking on the phone but watching television? The T.V. is on mute, but they are watching what’s going on by using the closed caption feature.

Voice overs

Voice overs are the premium solution, as you keep the integrity of the original video, sound effects, music, while localizing the spoken language. Voice overs are known for conveying a sense of objective truth, can fill in gaps between footage or interviews, and can add continuity throughout the video. Research has also shown that matching the gender or age of a specific to the perceived gender of the product or service advertised is very effective. Think about those insurance commercials – you know the voice and what they are selling as soon as you hear it. That’s a part of building a strong brand identity.

When dealing with voice overs, there are three different styles. The goal is to find the right one for the type of video and audience you are addressing:

Off-camera narration

This is a voice that is engaging and authoritative. For videos that are lengthy and have in-depth explanations, and no on-screen characters, this is a good option. Expect a clear, calm voice that is easy to understand.


This style is used in United Nations conferences, where the voiceover starts after the on-screen subject by a few pauses, usually with the original sound at virtually inaudible volume. This is not used in standard marketing to the average consumer.


This is the closest to real-time as you can get. The voice over is synchronized to the exact timing of the video, even when edited. In most cases, you can’t even tell it was pre-recorded. Big budgets for video shoots require the same amount of consistency when working on the voice over. Dubbing is very expensive and is much slower to produce (think 10 principal characters and talents for multiple secondary roles having to record at a studio. And that’s just the beginning – add in cleaning and mixing the audio with sound and effects, and it’s an entire production.

When considering cost or specific deadlines, it is much cheaper to use closed captioning or subtitled works. Because the consumer can turn the text on and off, this is an easy choice. Subtitles work best for training videos, as you can address specific talking points. It is vitally important to consider the different languages being used, as some videos may need more real estate due to the language translation. Most languages expand by up to 20% when translating from English, and subtitles can only have 32 characters per line, with a maximum of two lines on screen, so this needs to be taken into consideration.

Turnaround time also plays a role in which choice you use for localization. Translation services can be expensive. There’s also the editing, and production value. The quality of the content is crucial. Imagine going all out to create a high-definition video and the translation is off? This is most effective with slick marketing videos where visual connections are key. This is why Netflix, iflix and other on-demand TV platforms do more subtitling than dubbing. You’ll find they only dub in specific circumstances, such as premium content with a high ROI, or for specific audiences such as kids. Dubbing is much higher impact, which would be the preferred choice in most cases, but cost and scalability play a huge role in the decision to dub or not dub.

One of the most important things is to pay attention to the nuances of each language. Depending on the region or country, one translation (Spanish, Arabic for instance) may look and sound completely different from the other even though they share the ‘same language’. Audiences pay attention to this, and the last thing you want is to offend your customer before you get in the door.
While it all seems really simple or does it?… it’s not. Localization takes time, money, and the right concept for each audience you need to communicate with. Doing your research on what is popular in the region is the first step when choosing whether to use voice overs, closed captioning or subtitles. You don’t want to go too far from the norm.

Now you have a better grasp of the differences of voice overs, closed captioning and subtitles, which one appeals to you the most? Consider the amount of time it will take to get things done, the budget, and the different variations of languages. Once you have that together, you can proceed.

This information should give you an idea of which communication method will be most effective for the audience you are targeting. For more information, contact our team to request a quote today!


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