FCC Requirements for Closed Captioning of Spanish and Bilingual English/Spanish Video Programming
Updated: June 16, 2022
We’ve talked a lot about the FCC’s rules and regulations for closed captioning of broadcast television and IP-delivered video content. With the proliferation of Spanish and bilingual English/Spanish video content, we thought that we would address the FCC’s mandates for closed captioning of Spanish content.
In 2012, 54% of Americans consumed Spanish-language media either regularly or occasionally. A recent Nielsen report revealed that Hispanics watch 62% more digital video than non-Hispanics in the US, and that their consumption of Web video increased 282% between 2007-2012. It is crucial, given the extensive growth of Spanish-language media, to take note of Spanish closed captioning rules and regulations.
FCC Rules for Closed Captioning of Spanish Programming
While the FCC originally stated different deadlines for English and Spanish programming, at this point in time, the captioning requirements for both languages are identical. Captions were required for new English content in 2006, and for new Spanish content in 2010. The following were the FCC’s deadlines and rules for Spanish-language programming:
- January 1, 2010: All new Spanish-language content must be captioned
- January 1, 2012: 75% of pre-existing Spanish-language programming must be captioned
What this means is that today, in 2014, 100% of new Spanish-language television programming must be captioned, and 75% of pre-rule Spanish programming must be captioned. Note that these requirements are for broadcast television: the rules of the CVAA dictate closed captioning requirements for IP-delivered videos. You can see the deadlines for the CVAA below.
FCC Rules for Closed Captioning of Bilingual English/Spanish Programming
On February 20, 2014, the FCC released quality standards for closed captioning of video programming. In the same declaratory ruling, the FCC specified closed captioning rules for bilingual English/Spanish-language video content. This mandate came in response to a suggestion from KJLA, LLC that bilingual English-Spanish programming be treated as Spanish language programming for captioning requirements. However, the request came at a point when Spanish-language captioning requirements had not yet been phased in.
Now that the captioning requirements for programming in English and Spanish are identical, the FCC states that bilingual English/Spanish language is subject to the same captioning regulations as both solely English and solely Spanish content. This means that any new bilingual English/Spanish programming must be closed captioned, and 75% of pre-rule bilingual English/Spanish programming must be closed captioned in their respective languages.
Again, note that these regulations apply specifically to broadcast television, and IP-delivered bilingual English/Spanish content is subject to the CVAA’s closed captioning deadlines (see below).
FCC Rules for Closed Captioning of Programming in Other Languages
In the same mandate that detailed closed captioning rules for bilingual English/Spanish content, the FCC also clarified closed captioning rules for other language programming. The FCC reiterated that programming in a language other than English or Spanish is exempt from closed captioning requirements, in accordance with their 13 self-implementing exemptions. The FCC also specified that non-English or –Spanish programs that may contain small amounts of audio in either language do not require captioning.
CVAA Deadlines for Closed Captioning of IP-Delivered Spanish and Bilingual English/Spanish Programming
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) dictates rules for closed captioning of IP-delivered video programming that previously appeared on television with captions. The CVAA applies to “all nonexempt full-length video programming published or exhibited on television in the United States with captions.” The only language exemptions allowed by the FCC are, as stated above, programming in a language other than English or Spanish. Because 100% of new English, Spanish, and bilingual English/Spanish television programming must be captioned, all of this content is implicated by the CVAA.
As of now, the CVAA requires that all online video that previously appeared on television with captions be captioned within 45 days of going online. The upcoming deadlines for the CVAA are as follows:
- March 30, 2015: Video content shown on TV with captions must be captioned within 30 days of going online.
- March 30, 2016: Video content shown on TV with captions must be captioned within 15 days of going online.
FCC Exemptions from Closed Captioning of Spanish and Bilingual English/Spanish Programming
The FCC states two types of exemptions from closed captioning regulations: self-implementing exemptions, and economically burdensome exemptions. These exemptions apply to English, Spanish, and bilingual English/Spanish programming. Programmers must petition for the economically burdensome exemption; however, self-implementing exemptions operate automatically and do not need to be petitioned for. To qualify for a self-implementing exemption, the programming must meet one of the FCC’s 13 criteria.
FCC’s Quality Standards for Closed Captioning
As mentioned earlier, the FCC released rules for caption quality standards in February of this year. These standards apply to all television programming with captions, including Spanish and bilingual English/Spanish content, and set forth rules for caption accuracy, synchronicity, completeness, and placement. While these rules specifically pertain to broadcast captions, they also dictate the standards for online video programming in accordance with the CVAA.
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