Why Reformatting is the Best Way to Edit Existing Captions and Subtitles

January 9, 2023 BY JENA WALLACE
Updated: February 16, 2023

Download the [FREE] Checklist: Caption Reformatting

Have you ever watched a rerun of your favorite television show with the original captions on and noticed that they don’t seem entirely correct? Closed captions could be delayed, covering graphics, paraphrasing dialogue…or maybe all of the above. Now, you may wonder how these captions slipped through the cracks of quality control (QC), but you could be surprised to learn that the captions likely didn’t make it through the QC process at all. Why? Because the captions were never reformatted to the video content they’re paired to.

Instead, an existing caption file (usually created to an older or original video version) was paired to an edited video–in this case, edited for a rerun on another network or streaming service–when it should have been professionally reformatted, which is the best way to edit existing closed captions or subtitles and truly ensure their accuracy and compliance.

Reformats are an extremely important captioning and subtitling service, yet are seldom discussed when it comes to media accessibility. Caption/subtitle reformats are a crucial step in the editing of existing captioning and subtitling files for content that’s been adjusted in any way–even for seemingly minor things such as the removal of commercial breaks. Videos with these kinds of changes usually involve an update to the original caption or subtitle file through reformatting.

What is caption or subtitle reformatting?

Reformats update a caption or subtitle file when a video has been changed or edited in some way that makes it different from the original video. Captions and subtitles need to match the video they are being paired to, and if the video is different from the one that the caption/subtitle file originated from, the captions/subtitles are going to be incorrect.

Put simply, if you edit your video to an updated version, it will probably impact the captions or subtitles.

Outdated caption/subtitle files that are eligible for reformatting can range from very minor and barely noticeable changes to egregious misalignments in dialogue and/or timing. In rare cases, a reformat may not be necessary, but this is only if the caption/subtitle file is not affected by the video changes.

It is important to note that reformats aren’t usually meant for revising simple spelling or grammatical mistakes, nor are they meant for a caption timed a few frames behind dialogue. Think of reformats as editing caption and subtitle files on a larger scale as compared to singular revisions of files. Sometimes the two services collide, but reformats generally take a bit more time, depending on the scope of changes required.

When do you need a reformat?

Reformatting is necessary when there are changes made to the content of a video. While it primarily affects broadcast and streaming captions/subtitles on television and OTT streaming platforms, reformats are suggested and often necessary to have accurate captions and subtitles on any updated video.

Can I do a reformat manually?
In the case of very, very minor changes such as a short word change or spelling/grammar correction, yes, you can manually edit a caption file. At 3Play, we only recommend manual revisions to caption files if:

A caption or subtitle file with significant changes to timing, transcription, or format should be handed off to professional captioners with experience in reformatting to ensure fully updated, compliant files.

How does reformatting work?

Reformats are completed by professional captioners who edit the caption or subtitle file alongside the updated video content until both are in sync and the content between the video and the caption/subtitle file match. Reformats are usually done within professional captioning software due to its ability to import a variety of file types and videos, allowing captioners to make the most efficient edits as possible.

The time it takes to reformat a file varies based on the changes required, but on average, most customers can expect a reformat to be completed in approximately half the time it takes to originate a caption or subtitle file. The larger or more numerous the changes are, the longer the reformatting process can take.

Do you need to update your existing caption files? 👀

Why do I need a reformat to edit my existing captions or subtitles?

There are many reasons why you may need a caption/subtitle reformat, but sometimes it can be difficult to know if you truly need one. So let’s review some of the top scenarios in which a reformat would be required for your content.


A person touching the hands of a clock.Making any sort of timing adjustments, whether it’s cutting material or adding material, necessitates a reformat. When you add or remove space to a video, even if it’s just for commercials and contains no dialogue, you still need to account for that updated timing in the caption or subtitle file so that it can be offset accordingly and properly synchronized.

Transcription adjustments 

Hands on a keyboardChanges to voice-over, dialogue, sound effects, and music need to be reflected in an updated caption or subtitling file. For example, swapping out music is fairly common on re-aired content for licensing reasons; if you change music–especially to a song with different lyrics or an entirely different mood–you need to ensure the caption/subtitle file captures this change in the transcription and timing.

Changes to graphics

Compilation of hands with graphics and textual imagery

The addition or removal of graphics, burned-in subtitles, or credits means that captions/subtitles must be manually adjusted by a captioner so that they don’t cover them. Because placement is an FCC requirement, it’s particularly important that a file is properly reformatted to accommodate these changes.

Profanity & censorship updates

Speech bubbles with abstract exclamationsProfanity and censorship guidelines can vary based on air time or distribution to other networks and platforms. It’s critical to ensure that the captions/subtitles match up to the audio when it comes to profanity, whether it is bleeped, dropped, or uncensored. Some broadcasters and networks can face potential penalties for this.

Video frame rate conversions

A person placing parts of a video togetherVideo frame rate conversions always require a reformat to adjust timing changes in the caption/subtitle file. Sometimes all that will change in a video is the frame rate itself during the editing process; however, this is a crucial adjustment to be made to the caption file, as a significant timing drift can occur when a file’s frame rate does not match the video’s frame rate. Frame rate changes can happen for a number of reasons, but are most common when prepping a video for online streaming or international distribution.

Outdated captions and subtitles

Wavy analog television bars and toneIt is uncommon to come across captions and subtitles that haven’t been updated to the FCC’s captioning quality standards, but it does occasionally happen. These caption and subtitle files were typically created prior to 2013 and may include older styles of formatting and paraphrasing. If captions and subtitles are verbatim, synchronized, and appropriately moved for graphics, these can still be acceptable for broadcast; otherwise, they need to be updated. Note that it is recommended to reformat outdated files, even if they meet current FCC standards, to achieve optimal readability and accessibility for viewers.

Reformatting with 3Play Media

Person at a computer with captioning software on screen

Did you know that 3Play Media provides reformatting services for existing caption and subtitle files?

Our experienced team of captioners can quickly and easily reformat any files you have in need of adjustment. Simply talk to our sales reps or account managers about our reformat add-on options to get started.

Not sure if you need a reformat?

We’re here to help. Our team is filled with experienced captioning professionals who have reformatted hundreds (even thousands!) of hours of caption/subtitle files for updated video content. Get in touch with us to begin scoping your project, and we can determine if reformatting is right for you.

Just want a quick fix?

Try our Caption & Subtitle Editor to quickly make spelling and other small adjustments to captions and translations.


Do your captions and subtitles need a refresh? Our Caption Reformatting Checklist can help! Free download.

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