Netflix, a video streaming service, recently updated its captions allowances. Captions on the service have been present since 2014 after the company settled a class action lawsuit. However, customizing the captions — changing their appearance, including size and color — was previously restricted to users streaming from their computers.
TV streamers could only customize their captions in March of this year despite 77% of globally streamed minutes coming from smart TVs instead of computers. Users have been waiting for the news of this change for a long time.
What are captions?
Captions are an accessibility feature for video audio. They exist to help make a video more accessible to people with hearing disabilities. They convey everything in the audio, from dialogue to sound effects to speaker identification.
Most video streaming services, including Netflix, offer captions. They are used frequently worldwide, especially in public places where audio is hard to hear. They are a critical accessibility feature.
The possible customizations to Netflix’s captions include sizes, styles, and colors. There are several combinations to choose from, and a user can choose whichever suits their particular needs best. There are three sizes and four styles and colors to choose from.
A user can choose from small, medium, or large text. For colors and styles, the choices include basic white text, which is the default, along with the following: drop shadow (white text, black background), light (black text, white background), and contrast (yellow text, black background). Users can combine any size with any color.
There are sample subtitles as users move through each selection so they can see what a subtitle will look like in real time. Once selected, the captions will reflect the user’s customized choices. However, it’s important to note that this feature is only available in English.
Though rolling out customizable captions to TV users seems like a minor update, it has a huge impact. Captions are not necessarily one size fits all — for example, viewers who have hearing disabilities and vision disabilities may need more extensive captions than the default option. Providing an easier way to increase the size of the captions increases Netflix’s accessibility, especially since Netflix was already on shaky ground when it came to accessibility issues in the past.
The benefits of captions extend beyond users with disabilities. 80% of people who use captions aren’t people with hearing disabilities. The reasons vary — from watching a video with no sound to finding it more helpful in concentration, captions are an accessibility tool that reaches beyond people with disabilities. And everyone enjoys modifying their user experiences, which includes caption appearances.
Overall, this feature means that Netflix is taking accessibility seriously. Instead of making users go onto a laptop and figure out how to adjust caption preferences through the web, it is more straightforward to do it directly from the TV, where most people stream. This change is great news for accessibility.
Other streaming services
Netflix is not the only streaming service allowing users to customize captions. Streaming services like Prime Video, Hulu, and Peacock all have this feature for users. Unlike Netflix, all three of these streaming services allowed a user to modify the appearance of captions before Netflix’s rollout.
It seems that the customization of captions is something that streaming services will keep going. More and more seem to be added — Peacock even has a cursive captions feature! Customization is totally in the hands of the user, and Netflix is in a position to catch up to the fast pace of streaming accessibility.
However, expanding on the ability to change the appearance of captions on TV is an excellent start. It’s worth watching Netflix to see what accessibility changes they make next. They maintain that they are committed to accessibility — consumers should not let them forget about that.
In March of this year, Netflix rolled out a feature to allow users to customize their captions straight from their TVs. Previously, they could customize only from their computers. This move is a huge boost for accessibility as most people stream only from smart TVs and not from computers, and customizing captions is needed to be fully accessible. This move seems to help prove that Netflix is as committed to accessibility as they claim.