FCC Exemptions for Closed Captioning
Updated: January 24, 2019
A couple of big dates for closed captioning of online video have recently passed: first, the CVAA deadline requiring captions for archived video (that previously aired on television with captions) within 45 days of going online (March 30th, 2014); and second, the FCC’s declaratory ruling on quality standards for closed captioning of video programming (February 20th, 2014). Both refer to online video content that previously aired on television with captions.
With these stricter guidelines, both in terms of what online video material must be captioned and also in terms of the quality required for those captions, you might be wondering, who is exempt from the FCC’s captioning rules?
There are basically two types of exemptions: self-implementing and economically burdensome.
Economically Burdensome Exemption
FCC broadcasting regulations govern video content that is broadcast on American television. Internet content is only subject to FCC regulation if it also aired on US television with captions.
See CVAA Online Video Captioning Requirements for more information.
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 distributer 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
Churches and Religious Broadcasters Must Also Comply
Until recently, churches and religious broadcasters were exempt from closed captioning requirements. Religious organizations were sheltered by an FCC exemption granted in 2006. However, in October 2011 the FCC rescinded that exemption and now requires religious organizations to comply with the same captioning laws as other media publishers.
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