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 on March 6, 2020. (Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Do you watch television and movies with subtitles on to better comprehend the plot or for help understanding an accent? You’re not alone. 

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


The survey, conducted in May by the language learning platform Preply, asked 1,265 Americans across generations about their entertainment viewing habits. It found that members of Gen Z — which are often defined as those born between 1997 and 2012 — were much more likely to be frequent subtitle users (70%) compared to older viewers. 

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, were also more likely (53%) to use the feature than the average respondent. But older people, such as Gen X and Baby Boomers, were the groups least likely to frequently use subtitles. 

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"Based on our survey results, subtitles usage is quite popular in America, maybe even more popular than you think," the survey report said. "If entertainment trends of dim lighting, loud background music, and muddled audio continue, it’s likely that the use of subtitles will only increase in popularity."

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

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Roughly 27% said they rely on subtitles to stay focused on what they’re watching while juggling the distractions of multiple screens, children, pets, work, and more. Nearly one in five (18%) said they use subtitles to help learn a new language. 

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

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Why are Americans using subtitles more often?

Relatively recent films and shows, such as "The Batman," "Game of Thrones," and "Euphoria," use dark imagery. 

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"Whether this is due to changing director taste or the limits of home entertainment systems, we wanted to know whether it had anything to do with the frequency of subtitles use in American homes," Preply said in its report. 

The survey found that 53% of Americans said they use subtitles more often now than in previous years. More than three-quarters (78%) said they have difficulty hearing dialogue due to loud background music in films and TV shows, and 55% of respondents agreed that it’s become harder to hear dialogue than it used to be.

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Another reason may be that Americans are watching online content, such as YouTube videos and TikTok, on their phones and in public places. Among all the respondents of the survey, 57% said they watch shows, movies, or videos in public, and the figure increases for Gen Z, of which 74% said they watch shows, movies, or videos in public. 

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

Hardest-to-understand TV shows, accents for Americans

The survey also asked Americans what shows are the hardest to understand when it comes to the dialogue. "Peaky Blinders," "Derry Girls" and "Game of Thrones" topped the list.

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

Americans also have a hard time understanding certain accents, according to the survey. Some 57% said they used subtitles to better understand actors with an accent.

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

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This story was reported from Cincinnati. Tubi and this television station are both owned by the FOX Corporation.