How Do Viewers Experience Finnish Language Captions on TV Shows? – Some Channels Have Major Issues

Piirrettyjä päitä keskustelemassa toistensa kanssa. Taustalla on puhekuplia, lintuja, kirjaintauluja sekä selkokielisiä kuvakortteja.

How are Finnish programs on tv and various streaming services experienced by their viewers? What is the current state of Finnish closed captions and how should they be improved so that the content would be more enjoyable and accessible?

Kuuloliitto and Humak University of Applied Sciences set out to find answers to these questions and more with a survey, also called a caption barometer, on Finnish language captions. Results of the survey were presented in a webinar broadcasted live on Zoom on 23.9.2021. In the webinar, experts from linguistic fields and accessibility discussed the results and their meaning in a concrete real-life context.

It was possible to follow along to the webinar with on-screen captions.

Mies raidallisessa paidassa katsoo televisiota selkä käännettynä kameraan. Television molemmin puolin on harmaat kaiuttimet.

The Current State of Captions and Subtitles

Different kinds of people belonging in different kinds of groups benefit from on screen captions on programs. In the best case scenario, they support the detection of language and make it possible for certain viewers to be involved in the live event at all. Like Päivi Rainò, a researcher from Humak’s interpretation and linguistic focus area, mentions, the punchline of a joke must be available on screen at the same time and corresponding to the rhythm of the original joke to fully immerse a hearing-impaired viewer into the scene allowing them to be a part of the moment.

In Finland, subtitles are often only mentioned when discussing foreign language translations thus forgetting intralinguistic accessibility completely. Subtitles and on screen captions entail a power aspect – Who is allowed to decide who can view a specific program?

Sami Virtanen, an expert of accessibility and digital services , tells that the first law concerning Finnish language captions on screen was only introduced ten years ago in 2011 and its focus areas were communicational rights and equality. The barometer organised by Kuuloliitto and Humak focused more on the viewer experience and their personal opinions.

What Are Good Captions Like?

People put on captions, subtitles meant for hearing-impaired viewers, for a variety of reasons including supporting their detection of sound, the inability to hear sound altogether or just opting to turn the sound on the receiver low or off completely. Over 90% of the 158 people who answered the barometer said they use them on free Finnish tv channels. Some channels provide good quality captions as others do not. Some feel more like a joke than an actual attempt to increase accessibility. These are often created by automatic speech-recognition programs and they might seem funny to a viewer who can hear but for the hearing-impaired and their close ones, these captions only provide a source of frustration and distress. This is definitely the time for channels to take action. No channel wants to be known for discriminatory practises.

Good captions allow the viewer to experience the program in the same way as a viewer hearing the actual audio. Both the content and tone of the line must be present in text.

“Captions are all about equality” says the executive director of  Kieliasiantuntijat ry Hanna Gorschelnik while commenting the results of the barometer. It’s not according to modern society’s values to prevent anyone from experiencing an event.

The Future of Viewing

Unlike many other countries, people are used to the presence of subtitles on screen, so missing Finnish language captions or their subpar quality is only a matter of resources. A real person should always be involved in the creation of captions and subtitles and they should be there to check the quality and accessibility factor of these captions.

Finland could learn a lot about intralingual subtitles from abroad. Päivi Rainò showed the trailer for the newest James Bond film in the webinar to showcase the expertise and normalcy that these captions have abroad. In foreign language content, the emphasis usually is on describing on-screen sounds. The different value placed on these texts are already shown by terminology. In English, texts are differentiated into captions and subtitles when in Finnish the word “tekstitykset” entail both words.

However, the most important reasons, present in the answers of the barometer, were the existence of captions altogether. The ability to add captions on screen is for many the sole reason for choosing a program, being unable to otherwise follow along. This should also be noticed by tv channels. Good captions and subtitles not only increase viewer percentage but also make content accessible to each and every one of us.

About the Barometer

The barometer was active 23.8 – 15.9.2021 and it was answered by 158 respondents. The survey was distributed on Kuuloliitto’s own channels. The current plan is to redo the barometer next year in some form. Annual caption barometer could be an excellent tool for following the qualitative improvement of captions and the general attitudes and opinions on them. A full report on the current caption barometer will be published in October. 


Read more about Kuuloliitto: (link opens on an external page)

Read more about the functions and accessibility of captions : (link opens on an external page)

Read more about Humak’s focus area communication expertise:

Read Humak’s student’s Niina Naumanen’s blogpost about creating captions:


Text: Petra Karjalainen. Edit 24.9.2021.