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FCC Implicates Video Programmers in New Captioning Rules

  • On February 18th, 2016, the FCC held a public meeting to clarify who is responsible for complying with closed captioning requirements. The commission unanimously agreed on their decision, releasing a Second Report and Order that divides responsibility between video programming distributors (VPDs) and video programmers. This is a significant change, since VPDs have held the sole responsibility for ensuring closed captioning compliance since 1997.

    FCC New Captioning Rules

    The FCC Divides Responsibility for Closed Captioning Between VPDs and Video Programmers

    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in his statement, “To date, […] only VPDs have been directly subject to the Commission’s closed captioning rules, leaving half of the responsible parties unaccountable for the quality of their captioning. The action we take today ensures that the legal responsibilities imposed by our rules reflect the real world responsibilities of the parties involved.”

    The commission broke down the responsibility for closed captioning and caption quality as follows:

    • Video programmers will be responsible for ensuring compliance with FCC closed captioning quality requirements
    • Video programmers will be responsible for providing closed captioning on all non-exempt programming
    • VPDs will be responsible for passing through captions
    • VPDs will be responsible for ensuring maintenance and delivery of captions

    The Commission further updated their rules to place the responsibility for captioning certification on video programmers. The new process for certification is as follows:

    • Video programmers will now provide annual certifications directly to the FCC instead of to VPDs, attesting to the following:
    • VPDs will no longer be required to obtain certifications from video programmers
    • Video programmers must provide contact information for the individual(s) responsible for captioning compliance directly to the FCC
    QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

    QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

    Take this quick quiz to see which laws may require you to add captions to video.

    The Commission announced updates to their closed captioning complaint rules, again splitting responsibility for investigating and addressing complaints between VPDs and video programmers.

    The new complaint obligations are as follows:

    • VPDs will conduct an initial investigation into captioning complaints and respond to any complaints associated with distribution
    • Video programmers will now be responsible for addressing complaints associated with caption creation, quality, or delivery to VPD

    Finally, the Commission introduced a “compliance ladder” for caption quality to encourage companies to quickly resolve quality issues.

    Both VPDs and video programmers will initially have the opportunity to address caption quality issues; however, the FCC will have the right to bypass the ladder and enforce caption quality compliance if they determine that the circumstances warrant direct action.

    They are expected to release specific standards for “intentional and deliberate” violations of caption quality.

    What Content Is Implicated Under the FCC’s New Rules?

    The FCC’s Second Report and Order implicates all video content covered by the CVAA and other FCC requirements, including:

    • Broadcast television content
    • IP-delivered video content that previously appeared on television with captions
    • Straight lift video clips from full-length programming that previously appeared on television with captions
    • Beginning in January, 2017: Montage clips from full-length programming that previously appeared on television with captions

    Enhancing Accessibility Through Revised Compliance Responsibilities

    The point of the FCC’s Second Report and Order is to enhance the accessibility of video programming on television and online. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler closed his statement by saying, “We believe that this new approach of shared responsibilities under our rules will greatly improve the quality of closed captions for millions of Americans who rely on this feature to understand television programming.”

    Implicating video programmers, who are most often involved in the provision and creation of closed captions, in the FCC’s official compliance rules is meant to ensure that providing high quality captions for video content is a priority for programmers. The new Report and Order provides a common-sense approach to closed captioning compliance, and will hopefully lead to a noted improvement in captioning quality and availability across both broadcast and online programming.


    Download our free white paper on FCC rules for closed captioning:

    Download the FCC white paper

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