Young people watch TV with subtitles more than older viewers, survey says

FILE – Detail of a hand scrolling through Netflix on an Apple iPad Pro, taken March 6, 2020. (Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Do you watch TV and movies with subtitles to better understand the plot or to understand an accent? You’re not alone.

A recent survey found that half of Americans said they watch entertainment with closed captions most of the time, and the younger the age, the more likely they are to turn on closed captions.

Conducted in May by language learning platform Preply, the poll asked 1,265 Americans of all generations about their entertainment viewing habits. It found that members of Generation Z – often defined as those born between 1997 and 2012 – were much more likely to use subtitles (70%) compared to older viewers.

Millennials born between 1981 and 1996 also used the feature more often (53%) than the average respondent. But older people, like Gen X and baby boomers, were the groups least likely to use closed captioning.

“Based on our survey results, the use of closed captions is very popular in America, maybe even more popular than you think,” reads the survey report. “If the entertainment trends of dim lights, loud background music, and distorted audio continue, it’s likely that the use of closed captioning will only become more popular.”

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The most common reasons for subtitles were that the audio is muddled (72%) or that the accent is difficult to understand (61%). Another 29% said they prefer to watch content quietly at home with subtitles so as not to disturb roommates or family.

About 27% said they rely on closed captioning to focus on what they’re watching while juggling the distractions of multiple screens, kids, pets, work and more. Almost one in five (18%) said they use subtitles to learn a new language.

The popularity of streaming services also seems to encourage the use of closed captions, as the survey found that 62% of Americans use closed captions more often on streaming services than on regular TV. Respondents said Netflix had the best closed captioning feature, followed by Amazon Prime and Hulu as the best streaming providers.

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Why do Americans use subtitles more often?

Relatively new movies and shows like The Batman, Game of Thrones, and Euphoria use dark imagery.

“Whether this is due to changing director tastes or the limitations of home entertainment systems, we wanted to know if it had anything to do with the frequency of closed captioning use in American homes,” Preply said in his report.

The poll found that 53% of Americans said they use closed captions more often than in previous years. More than three-quarters (78%) said they have trouble understanding dialogue because of loud background music in films and TV shows, and 55% of respondents agreed that it has become more difficult to hear dialogue than it used to.

Another reason could be that Americans watch online content like YouTube videos and TikTok on their phones and in public places. Of all respondents to the survey, 57% said they watch shows, films or videos in public, and the number is rising for Gen Z, of whom 74% said they watch shows, films or videos in public.

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Overall, 43% of respondents said they watch content on public transport, 42% do so at work, and 37% confirmed they even watch videos while walking or driving.

Most difficult TV shows to understand, accents for Americans

The poll also asked Americans which shows are the hardest to understand in terms of dialogue. Peaky Blinders, Derry Girls and Game of Thrones topped the list.

Outlander, Downton Abbey, Bridgerton, Squid Game, Narcos, Ozark, and Money Heist rounded out the top 10 shows with the most difficult-to-understand dialogue.

Americans also find it difficult to understand certain accents, according to the survey. About 57% said they use subtitles to better understand accented actors.

The accents Americans have the most difficulty understanding were listed as Scottish (50%), British (17%), Irish (17%), South African (10%), Australian (4%) and South American (2%). .

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.

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