Quickly Toggling Closed Captions on Apple TV (But Not in Netflix)

I know it’s a trend for people to just leave closed captions enabled whenever they’re watching TV, even for shows and movies in which they can easily understand the dialog. I can’t do that though, because I find captions highly distracting if I don’t need them.

But while watching the aforelinked The Gentlemen on Netflix this past week, I found myself toggling captions on and back off frequently, as I couldn’t understand the cockney accent spoken by many characters. So when a scene with cockney-speaking characters would start, I’d swipe up on the Apple TV remote, and toggle the on-screen “CC” button in the Netflix app. When the scene ended, repeat. I tried just leaving captions on, but I really do find it unbearably distracting when I do understand what’s being said. This made me think there has to be a better way to toggle captions than manually swiping and clicking on the Apple TV remote touchpad.

Turns out there are two better ways:

  1. If you use the Control Center Apple TV remote control on your iPhone, there’s a dedicated “CC” button.

  2. In tvOS, go to Settings → Accessibility → Accessibility Shortcut, and set it to “Closed Captions”. Now you can just triple-click the Menu/Back button on the remote to toggle captions. (On older Apple TV remotes, the button is labelled “Menu”; on the new remote, it’s labelled with a “<”.)

But here’s the hitch: Netflix’s tvOS app doesn’t support either of these ways to toggle captions. Netflix only supports the on-screen caption toggle in their custom video player. I get why Netflix and other streaming apps want to use their own custom video players, but it ought to be mandated by App Store review that they support accessibility features like this one.

You can also toggle captions using Siri on the remote: “Turn on captions” or “Turn off captions” (or use the word “subtitles”). And the coolest feature: “What did he/she/they just say?”, which rewinds 15 seconds and temporarily turns on captions. All cool features which seem to work in all major tvOS streaming apps, including Netflix — but no excuse not to support the triple-click accessibility shortcut and the CC button in the Control Center remote.

Postscript: Ben Markowitz tried the captions accessibility shortcut in a dozen popular tvOS apps. Only works in Paramount+ and ESPN. Just terrible.