Final CVAA and FCC Online Video Closed Captioning Deadlines

September 9, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: January 4, 2018


This year marks the first time in history that more than half the US population watches TV shows online at least once a month.

The attraction of online video for end-users is easy to see. Broadcast TV websites, apps, and online video memberships allow audiences to watch shows and movies anytime, anywhere, and often with fewer commercials. For video programming distributors and producers, this skyrocketing market has created not only business opportunities, but also formidable challenges that include accessibility compliance.

July 1, 2017 marks the arrival of the final deadline in the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), requiring that all live and near-live broadcast video be captioned within 12 hours after the original broadcast time. The deadline will be the FCC’s second of the year, after January 1, 2017 when video montages made from video content that previously aired on US television will need to be captioned..

Past CVAA Video Closed Captioning Deadlines

The purpose of the CVAA was to make sure that the federal communications laws of the 1980s and 1990s were brought up to date with 21st century technologies. The CVAA requires video programming that is closed captioned on TV to be closed captioned when distributed via Internet protocol (IP). This does not include programs shown only on the Internet.

The FCC established several milestones to phase in CVAA legislation, ten of which have already passed. Currently, all pre-recorded programming, except for montages, must be captioned if it was also shown on TV with captions. Also, multiple deadlines for adding closed captions and official caption quality standards have passed since the beginning of the CVAA’s timeline in 2012.

Read more about captioning Internet video programming.

January 1st and July 1st Closed Captioning Deadlines

There are just two more deadlines in 2017 before the CVAA’s regulatory implementation timeline finally ends.

January 1st, 2017

On January 1st, all montages or compilations made from clips of video content that previously aired (with captions) on US television will need to be captioned online. This is similar to the January 1st, 2016 deadline requiring captions for video clips except that montages are essentially made up of multiple video clips.

To ensure video clips and montages are efficiently, accurately captioned and timed-synced with audio, we recommend using our Video Clip Caption tool.

July 1st, 2017

The CVAA’s final deadline on July 1st will require all live and near-live programs (a program recorded less than 24 hours before being aired for the first time) to get captioned within 12 hours of airing on television. This category includes TV programs like sporting events, news, or late-night talk shows.

Entities and Programming Affected by CVAA Closed Captioning Rules

Online video captioning requirements apply whether you’re a content producer, the distributor or both.

The rules apply to television stations, broadcasters, satellite and cable networks, and all streaming online video services that air content previously aired on TV, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

It should be noted that the FCC puts the burden of responsibility for adding closed captions predominately on video programmers, or those entities who produce the actual video content for broadcast. Video programming distributors (VPDs) are responsible for allowing captions to “pass through” to the end while ensuring quality standards are met.

Video Content Excluded from CVAA Closed Captioning Requirements

Does CVAA Apply to Netflix Originals?

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The CVAA only applies to online content previously broadcast on TV, but recent case law has determined that the ADA applies to Internet-only video, too.

Navigating the Accessibility Law Venn Diagram

  • Outtakes: As discussed above, the FCC has determined captioning requirements for online video clips and montages, however, captioning is not required for outtakes unless those segments previously aired on TV.
  • Consumer-generated media: Homemade movies and videos originating on the internet do not require captioning.
  • Internet-only movies: Unless these movies have aired on TV with captions, they are not required to have captions for internet distribution. However, they may still fall under captioning requirements covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Summary: CVAA Closed Captioning Requirements for Online Video

  • Video Originated from TV: All video content that has aired on US television with closed captions must be captioned to FCC standards online, as well. This includes clips of video, and (as of January 1st, 2017) montages made from different clips of video.
  • Quality Standards: In 2014, the FCC issued clear standards for closed caption quality based on accuracy, timing, completeness, and placement.
  • End-User Controls: According to Section 203 of the CVAA, captioning standards for IP video require end-user controls with the ability to change text color, opacity, size, font, background color, opacity, character edge attributes, window color, and other attributes.
  • Caption File Format: The SMPTE-TT (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Timed Text) caption format is not a requirement, but the FCC recommends using it as a “safe harbor interchange and delivery format.” The FCC has adopted this format as universal to minimize the need for video providers to re-caption content when dealing with multiple formats.
  • Live and Near-Live Video: Effective on July 1st, 2017, if your organization streams live or near-live video (recorded within the last 24 hours), it will need to be closed captioned within 12 hours of airing.

FCC Updates for Closed Captioning of Online Video: Are You Compliant?

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