The FCC mandated closed captioning in the early 1980s as a requirement for US TV broadcasters to make programming accessible to all audiences. In 2017, new FCC and 21st Century Video Accessibility Act some new rules will apply to captioning of TV content posted on the internet.
In an age when online video streaming services rival traditional broadcasting, how do broadcasters ensure content is captioned for those who need it? The 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) tackles that question. Signed by President Obama in 2010, the CVAA sets clear rules for internet video programming and clips that previously aired on TV in the US. It is enforced by the FCC and phased in for video creators over several years.
CVAA modernized and broadened a string of laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s designed to ensure that TV and telephone services were accessible to people with disabilities.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces compliance with the CVAA and clarifies the law when necessary.The CVAA requires that video programming that is closed captioned on American TV is also closed captioned when distributed via internet protocol (IP). It does not include programs shown only on the Internet.
Examples of content that must be captioned according to CVAA rules include online video streaming websites or applications whose content previously broadcast on US TV stations with captions. CVAA rules also include broadcast network websites that publish full episodes or clips of content that originally aired on US TV with captions, and programming on a broadcaster’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, or other app if that content originally aired on US TV with captions.
On the other hand, some video content is excluded from CVAA captioning requirements. Such excluded content includes consumer-generated homemade movies and videos originating on the internet, and internet-only video content such as Netflix originals and others such as Amazon Prime originals. Unless movies have aired on American TV with captions, they are not required to have captions for Internet distribution under CVAA rules. However, note that this type of content may be covered under the ADA.
Public, educational, and government access television are also excluded from CVAA captioning requirements.
Continuing CC countdown
Starting in 2012, the FCC and CVAA defined rules began to take effect. "Live programming" is defined as programming that is shown on TV substantially simultaneously with its performance. "Near-live programming" is defined as programming that is performed and recorded less than 24 hours before it was first shown on TV.
The rules specifically state that internet video programming must be captioned if the programming is shown on TV in the U.S. with captions for prerecorded programming that is not "edited for Internet distribution." "Edited for Internet distribution" means the TV version has been substantially edited. Examples of substantial edits are deleting scenes or altering musical scores. Changing the number or duration of commercials is not considered substantial editing.
As shown in Figure 1 courtesy 3Play Media, as of 1 January 2017 the FCC and CVAA require captions for montages. What is a montage? According to the FCC webpage “Captioning of Internet Video Programming,” a montage is a single file containing multiple straight-lift video clips. A straight-lift video clip is a single excerpt of a captioned TV program with the same audio and video that was shown on TV.
Six months later on 1 July 2017, the rules call for live and near-live clips on the internet to be captioned within 12 hours. For clips of live programming, up to a 12-hour delay is permitted in posting a captioned clip after the programming has been aired on TV. For clips of near-live programming, up to an 8-hour delay is permitted in posting a captioned clip after the programming has aired on TV.
The same FCC “Captioning of Internet Video Programming” webpage also instructs consumers how to file a complaint. It states “If you experience a captioning problem after the implementation dates, you may file a written complaint with either the FCC or the video programming distributor or provider.”
It goes on to explain “If you choose to file your written complaint with the video programming distributor or provider, you may be able to find the contact information on the distributor's or provider's website. If you file your complaint with the FCC, the FCC will forward the complaint to the video programming distributor or provider.”
The FCC advises consumers “Your written complaint must be filed within 60 days of the captioning problem. After receiving a complaint, either directly from you or from the FCC, the video programming distributor or provider will have 30 days to respond to the complaint. If you chose to first file your complaint with the video programming distributor or provider and it does not respond within 30 days, or if a dispute remains, you can still send your complaint to the FCC.”
The FCC asks consumers to include the name, address, website, or email address of the video programming distributor, provider and/or owner of the video program or show with the captioning problem, including the name of the program or show. It also asks for the device and/or software used to view the program or show, the date and time the viewer experienced the captioning problem, and a detailed description of the captioning problem, including specifics about the frequency and type of problem (e.g., captions cut off, captions missing).
Caption accuracy is critical to meeting both viewer and FCC requirements. Note in the above image how simple phonetics translations may result in caption errors.
The FCC asks consumers to provide any additional information or evidence the consumer thinks appropriate. It recommends complaints include any additional information that might assist in processing the complaint, such as screen shots of the web page, written-out examples of garbled captions, or video recordings of the captioning problem.
Economically burdensome exemption
The Commission can be petitioned for an economically burdensome exemption from closed captioning rules if compliance with the rules would be economically burdensome. The petition must be supported by sufficient evidence. The guidelines for filing an FCC petition for an exemption from closed captioning require the petitioner to provide the details of the program they are requesting exemption from closed captioning for, including the cost of closed captioning and the impact of captioning their programming, as well as a detailed explanation of the petitioner’s financial resources (including proof of having sought programming distributor assistance and additional sponsorships).
To qualify for a self-implementing exemption, the provider does not need to file a petition; the provider must simply meet one or more of the FCC’s thirteen criteria:
- Programming is subject to contractual captioning restrictions.
- Captioning requirement has been waived due to economically burdensome exemption.
- Programming is in a language other than English or Spanish.
- Programming is primarily textual.
- Programming is distributed between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. local time.
- Interstitials, promotional announcements, and public service announcements that are 10 minutes or less in duration.
- EBS (Educational Broadband Service) programming.
- Locally produced and distributed non-news programming with no repeat value.
- Programming on new networks for the first four years (although the new guidelines are re-evaluating this exemption).
- Primarily non-vocal musical programming.
- Captioning expense in excess of 2% of gross revenues.
- Channels producing revenues under $3,000,000.
- Locally produced educational programming.
The FCC states, “In order to be accurate, captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue, in their original language (English or Spanish), to the fullest extent possible and include full lyrics when provided on the audio track.”Specifically, they require captions to include all words spoken in the order spoken (i.e., no paraphrasing).
The FCC states, “In order to be accurate, captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue, in their original language (English or Spanish), to the fullest extent possible and include full lyrics when provided on the audio track.”Specifically, the FCC requires captions to include all words spoken in the order spoken (i.e., no paraphrasing).
Captions must use proper spelling, spacing between words, capitalization, and punctuation. YouTube's automatic captions are not accurate enough to meet CVAA standards. Accurate captions must also convey the tone of the speaker’s voice and intent of the content.
The goal is for captions to maintain the impact of the performance so that the overall message is not lost on the viewer. Captions of essential nonverbal information (sound effects, music playing, audience reactions, who is speaking) must be provided if they are to be considered accurate.
Developing high quality captioning processes and folding them into your workflow is the key to FCC and CVAA compliance.
Editor's note: Lily Bond and Patrick Loftus are with 3Play Media.