Legal Responsibility for TV Broadcast, Video Programmers, & Distributors Under the CVAA & FCC

February 18, 2019 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: June 3, 2019

In September 2016, the FCC put into effect a decision to enhance the accessibility of TV broadcasting by dividing closed captioning responsibility between both video programming distributors (VPDs) and video programmers.

The aim of this directive is to simplify closed captioning workflows and make the resolution of any issues associated with a particular television program’s closed captions a much more efficient process.

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

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Under the rule, video program distributors (VPDs) must ensure that closed captions make it to broadcast, but video programmers have the responsibility of providing high-quality closed captions.

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

The Commission also places the responsibility for captioning certification on video programmers. The new process for certification is as follows:

  • Video programmers must provide annual certifications directly to the FCC instead of to VPDs, attesting to the following:
  • They are in compliance with FCC captioning rules
  • They follow the best practices for ensuring captioning compliance
  • They are exempt from closed captioning requirements
  • VPDs are no longer 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
 Take the Quiz: Which Captioning Laws apply to You? 

Addressing Complaints

The Commission has rules splitting the responsibility for investigating and addressing complaints between VPDs and video programmers.

The complaint obligations are:

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

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

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

 Download our free white paper on FCC rules for closed captioning

What Content Is Implicated Under the FCC’s Rules?

The FCC 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

The CVAA & the Legal Responsibility for Video Programmers & Distributors

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The CVAA states that all online video previously aired on television is required to have closed captioning (including clips and montages).

If your video content has never aired on television, this act does not apply to you.

If you are a video creator or content distributor then you are responsible for captioning.

Captions must be provided for the following types of video when published online:

  • Video that hasn’t been edited for internet distribution
  • Live and near live programming
  • Prerecorded video programming that is edited for the internet
  • Video clips and video montages
  • For live programming video clips, there is a 12-hour delay allowed for captions.
  • For near-live programming video clips, there is an 8-hour delay for captions.

Section 203: Video Programmin Apparatus

Video distributors must use media players that allow users to toggle captions on and off, select language for subtitles, and customize the display of the captions. Under the FCC video programming distributors must comply with CEA-708 standards for customizing caption displays.

Note, this does not apply to mobile devices, smartphones, game consoles, cellular telephones, and tablets.

Exemptions for closed captioning apply to video that is:

  • Consumer-generated media (such as homemade movies and videos that originated on the internet).
  • Internet-only video content (unless it was previously aired on American TV).
  • PEG channels (Public, educational, and government access television).

Enhancing Accessibility Through Revised Compliance Responsibilities

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 FCC rules provide 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.


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This blog was originally published by Patrick Loftus as “FCC’s New Closed Captioning Ruled Go Into Effect September 22” on February 9, 2016, and has since been updated.

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