Certification of Closed Captions for the Digital Distribution of TV and Film

May 5, 2014 BY LILY BOND
Updated: June 3, 2019


In April, we held a webinar with Netflix and the Entertainment Merchants Association on the best practices for closed captioning the digital distribution of TV and film. Sean Bersell, the VP of Public Affairs at the Entertainment Merchants Association, discussed (among other things) the issue of certification for closed captions. He described the best practices for caption certification and compliance with captioning laws. These best practices were proposed by the EMA Closed Captions Working Group, consisting of Amazon, Best Buy, Google, Microsoft, MovieLabs, Netflix, Rovi, Vudu, and the EMA. The group was created to develop closed captioning best practices for compliance with federal legal requirements.

What is Caption Certification?

Caption certification describes why a video does not require captioning. It is needed if someone posts a video but does not include closed captions with the video file. The video owner is the responsible party for providing captions: they must give them to the video programming distributor, and the two are required by law to establish a mechanism for ongoing communication about whether each video requires captioning. The distributor may rely on the certification from the owner that a video is not subject to captioning if the content provider provides a clear and concise explanation of why captioning is not required.

The best practice is that if the content provider does not provide a closed caption file, the video programming owner should include a certification in the avails (the set of metadata that describes the content availability) and the metadata that describes why closed captions are not required.

Six Acceptable Caption Exemptions

The EMA working group has identified six reasons why a video may be exempt from captioning requirements. The video owner must include one of these six certifications in the metadata or the avails. They are:

  • ‘Never on TV’ – Content has never aired on TV in the U.S.
  • ‘TV without captions’ – Content has only aired on TV in the U.S. without captions.
  • ‘No captions since September 30, 2012’
  • ‘Not full length programming’
  • ‘NA per FCC Reg’ – Content does not fall within a category of online programming that currently requires captions under FCC regulations.
  • ‘Exempted’ – FCC and/or U.S. Congress has granted an exemption from captioning requirements for this content.

The first two certifications are fairly self-explanatory: either the content was never broadcast on television, or it was only aired on TV without captions. The third one refers to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, stating that the content hasn’t appeared with captions since the law kicked in and became applicable. In regards to the fourth certification, the FCC has deferred their decision on whether to require captions for video clips, so at this time, if your content is not full length programming (i.e., it is a clip of a larger program), this is a valid certification. The fifth certification is a catch-all for other types of online programming. For instance, if your content is user-generated, it does not fall within the FCC’s regulations for captioning.

Finally, the ‘exempted’ certification refers to one of the FCC’s exemptions for closed captioning requirements. The FCC can grant two types of exemptions: an economically burdensome exemption, which you must petition the Commission to receive; and a self-implementing exemption, which does not require a petition. To qualify for the self-implementing exemption, you must fit one or more of the FCC’s thirteen criteria, which include non-English or -Spanish content, non-vocal musical content, and Educational Broadband Service (EBS) programming, among others.

Again, these are the six certifications that the EMA working group has developed as the best practice for communicating why captions are not provided so that people are compliant with the law.

To learn further, we encourage you to read the white paper on best practices and legal requirements for closed captioning.

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