What Are Forced Narrative Subtitles?

December 8, 2017 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: June 19, 2019

Forced Narrative (FN) subtitles are used to clarify pertinent information meant to be understood by the viewer. FN subtitles are overlaid text, and can be used to clarify dialogue, burned-in texted graphics, and other information that is not otherwise explained or easily understood by the viewer.

What Is the Purpose of the Forced Narrative Subtitle?

The purpose of the Forced Narrative subtitle is to broaden the viewing experience across a wide range of countries, languages, and devices. FN subtitles are delivered as separate timed ­text files. The picture in your source video is required to be delivered without text, and therefore FN subtitles cannot be​ burned-in.

How Are Forced Narrative Subtitles Being Used?

Looking at several different use cases for FN subtitles will help to better understand what they are and how they work. They can be used in the following scenarios:

Sporadic Foreign Language

Although a film may be in one language, occasionally certain characters will use a phrase or short segment of a foreign language. One scenario might be a German character living in the United States who makes a phone call to a family member where they speak in German. If the information during this scene is important to the plot and overall understanding of the movie or show, FN subtitles will be used to translate the conversation.

Speech bubble reads

Translation of Labels

Sometimes burned in text graphics are used to enhance the viewing experience. Oftentimes, these are location or person names, dates, or other labels. Since they are burned in in the original language, FN subtitles can be used to translate these into a foreign language for viewers.

The image below showcases an example of a film originally in Chinese containing a location label in the original language. When shown in the US, English FN subtitles would be used to translate the city name for English viewers to understand.

city skyline with Chinese writing above, and Boston, Massachusetts written below

Uncommon Communication

Forced Narrative subtitles can be used in cases where communication is used that is not commonly understood. For example, if a character speaks in sign language, Forced Narrative subtitles would be used to clarify the meaning for viewers who aren’t familiar with sign language. The example below, from an episode of Master of None does exactly that when two deaf characters are talking about the fact that they have on the same jacket in sign language.

Two women speak to each other in ASL while wearing the same jacket. The subtitle says
Image credit: Netflix

Transcribed Dialogue

Sometimes Forced Narrative subtitles are used for transcribed dialogue in the same language. This is done to assist audience members when audio is inaudible or distorted. It may be hard to hear dialogue in an action movie with a lot of background noise, or in a documentary with poor audio quality. In either of these cases, FN subtitles could be used to clarify dialogue for the viewer.

Person with distorted sound wave coming from mouth. Text below says


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