CVAA & FCC Closed Captioning Requirements for Online Video
Updated: March 9, 2021
More video content is published to the web in 1 month, than TV has created in 3 decades.
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.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), requires all live and near-live broadcast video be captioned within 12 hours (for live) or 8 hours (for near-live) after the original broadcast time.
- 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: If your organization streams live or near-live video (recorded within the last 24 hours), it should be closed captioned within 12 hours of airing for live video and within 8 hours of airing for near-live video.
The CVAA Rules
As of January 2017, all CVAA rules must be implemented by broadcasters.
All montages or compilations made from clips of video content that previously aired (with captions) on US television 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.
Captioning Live and Near-Live Programs
All live and near-live programs (a program recorded less than 24 hours before being aired for the first time) must be captioned within 12 hours of airing on television for live programs and within 8 hours of airing on television for near-live programs. 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?
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.
- 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).
How to Keep up with FCC Closed Captioning Rules
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.
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.
FCC User Control Requierements
The FCC mandate sets new user control requirements for online video closed captioning. Note that it applies only to online full-length programming that previously appeared with captions on television in the United States. As of January 1, 2014, all online video programming distributors (VPDs) must comply with the advanced closed captioning standard CEA-708.
With these controls, users should have the ability to control font type, font size, font and background color, opacity, window color, and character edge style (drop shadow, raised, depressed). You can customize your captions to your own preferences: now, there is a fun factor involved. And, the ability to change these integral aspects of captions can make content much more accessible, especially for users with partial vision impairment.
To see how it works in action, go to a YouTube video that has closed captions (here’s an example of one of ours). When you press the CC button to turn on closed captions, click on “Options”. Then, play around with all the different possibilities!
FCC Proposal for the Internet
In a statement on October 28, 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote, “The mantra ‘Competition, Competition, Competition’ fits perfectly with consumers’ desires for video choices. That’s why I’m asking my fellow Commissioners to update video competition rules so our rules won’t act as a barrier to this kind of innovation. Specifically, I am asking the Commission to start a rulemaking proceeding in which we would modernize our interpretation of the term ‘multichannel video programming distributor’ (MVPD) so that it is technology-neutral. The result of this technical adjustment will be to give MVPDs that use the Internet (or any other method of transmission) the same access to programming owned by cable operators and the same ability to negotiate to carry broadcast TV stations that Congress gave to satellite systems in order to ensure competitive video markets.”
If the FCC decides to allow certain online video services to stream prescheduled “cable” programming, it would mean that those online services would also be subject to certain regulatory requirements, such as closed captioning. At least, cable providers are arguing that the “burdens” that exist for cable companies – such as airing emergency alerts, providing closed captioning, carrying certain channels, and complying with equal hiring rules – should apply to online services if the proposition is accepted.
This blog post was originally published on September 9, 2016 by Patrick Loftus and has since been edited.
This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
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