How to Keep up with FCC Closed Captioning Rules in 2017

February 8, 2017 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: January 4, 2018


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has regulated broadcasting in the US for decades, but it is just cutting its teeth on web video. Closed captioning for IP-delivered video is part of the regulatory frontier.

The 2010 21st Century Communications Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) set a calendar of deadlines for media producers and distributors to follow when posting video online.

3Play hosted a webinar with two broadcast media experts to explore the impact of the upcoming CVAA and FCC captioning rules. In FCC Closed Captioning Requirements: How Some Networks Are Staying Ahead of the Curve, we heard from Peter Bothe, Director of Operations at Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and Maria Browne, Partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

Watch the recording of the event, or read on for key take-aways from the presentation.

Online Video Closed Captioning

Under the CVAA and FCC closed captioning rules, you’re required to caption full-length programs once those programs are aired on television in the United States with captions, whether the captions were provided voluntarily or not. If that program is transmitted via IP (i.e., streamed online), it must be accompanied with closed captions.

IP captioning rules require the program copyright owner to create and provide closed captions, while the program distributor is required to render those captions correctly and make them available to the end user. The video owner and video distributor must agree on an ongoing mechanism to ensure that captions are working correctly.

Video Clip Captioning Rules

As of January 1, 2016, all video clips of programs that fit the above criteria must be captioned when broadcast online.

The CVAA defines clips as “excerpts of full-length video programming.” The FCC will not distinguish between length of clip, so clips need to be captioned whether they’re 10 seconds or 10 minutes long.

Note that the clip captioning rule does not currently apply to clips distributed by third party apps or websites, but only to the website or app of the content producer. However, this may change, as it is the subject of a further notice of proposed rule making at the FCC.

Video clip captioning rules apply only to content posted online. Video distributors are not required to captions clips in their archives.

Exemptions to FCC Closed Captioning Requirements

All American television and film broadcasting must be closed captioned, with some exceptions. These include:

  • Programming on networks that have been operating for less than 4 years
  • Programming on channels for annual revenue less than $3M
  • Programming on channels for whom captioning costs exceed 2% of gross revenue
  • Public access and emergency broadcasting
  • Promos and PSAs under 10 minutes long
  • Late-night programming (2am-6am)
  • Content that is primarily textual or non-vocal music
  • Content in a language other than English or Spanish

FCC Closed Captioning Accuracy Rules

Closed captions for IP video must be of equal quality to the closed captions on TV. The FCC published revised requirements for closed captioning quality that govern accuracy, synchronicity, placement, and program completeness.

The video content creator must provide captions of adequate quality, and the online distributor must report those who do not. End users and video distributors can report closed captioning complaints to the FCC online.

Fun fact: mobile video apps produced or updated after January 1, 2014 must accommodate caption display in accordance with FCC quality standards.

The Final Two CVAA Captioning Deadlines

calendar timeline of the deadlines below

January 1, 2017

Montages or compilations of straight lift clips must be captioned online.

July 1, 2017

Live or near-live programming must be captioned online with an 8 to 12 hour grace period.

Need a fast, easy way to caption clips of shows or films you’ve already captioned? Learn more about our Video Clip Captioning Tool

This post was previously published by Emily Griffin on December 28, 2015 and has since been updated.

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