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Netflix improves its TV subtitles amid growing demand

Netflix improves its TV subtitles amid growing demand


The size and style of text can now be adjusted to make Netflix TV subtitles easier to read as audio quality of dialog seemingly gets worse.

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Netflix’s logo on a black and yellow background
Netflix brings user-adjustable subtitles and closed captions to TV users, allowing subscribers to personalize their viewing experience to best suit their needs.
Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge

Netflix TV users can now customize the appearance of subtitles and closed captions on the streaming platform, allowing subscribers to adjust the size and style of the text. Announced on Wednesday, the new feature can toggle subtitle text size between small, medium, and large, and alter the overall appearance of the text to make it easier to read.

Alongside the default white text, Netflix now also provides three new text style options with contrasting backgrounds to make the text stand out: Light (black text / white background), Drop Shadow (white text / black background), and Contrast (yellow text / black background).

A clip from the Netflix TV show ‘Wednesday’. The Gif is demonstrating the various adjustments Netflix TV users can now make to subtitles and captions.
Netflix TV users can now adjust subtitle text size and style to suit their needs, making captions easier to read.
Image: Netflix

Netflix already offers similar subtitle customizations via the web. Now, the feature is also available globally to TV users, a welcome update considering that Netflix reported in 2018 that 70 percent of its content is watched on TVs, and smart TVs and app-supported streaming boxes have only grown in popularity since. Other streaming platforms such as Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video also offer similar user adjustments to their own subtitles.

There are obvious accessibility benefits. The subtitle adjustments allow Netflix TV users with visual or hearing impairments and auditory processing disorders to customize their viewing experience to their own requirements. Making the text of subtitles and closed captions easier to read could also improve focus for those with cognitive disorders or who are easily distracted. 

But even outside of accessibility, poorly mixed audio on streaming platforms has likely resulted in a large portion of consumers now enabling subtitles when watching TV shows and movies. A study by Preply last year found that 50 percent of Americans watch content with subtitles, and 62 percent use subtitles more on streaming services compared to regular TV. 70 percent of Gen Z users admitted to enabling subtitles too, suggesting those figures don’t just consist of aging, hard-of-hearing individuals. Unless streaming platforms take steps to improve the audio quality across their content, a lot more of us will have to start slapping on subtitles or captions to understand unintelligible on-screen conversations.