What is the FCC Rule 79.1 (& How to Comply)?

Updated: June 3, 2019

3Play Media’s closed captioning service complies with the quality standards established by the FCC for accuracy, synchronicity, completeness, and placement as set forth in the FCC’s rules at 47 C.F.R. § 79.1(j)(2). We also comply with the best practices set forth in the FCC’s rule 79.1(k)(4) for offline captioning.

What is Rule 79.1?

FCC code 79.1 is a federal regulation for closed captioning of video programming. It can be found online in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), under:

Title 47 -Telecommunication
> Chapter 1 – Federal Communications Commission
> > Subcapter C – Broadcast Radio Services
> > > Part 79 – Accessibility of Video Programming
> > > > §79.1 – Closed captioning of televised video programming.

Here’s a rough summary of each subheader in the rule:

a. Definitions

Important terms are defined, such as the difference between ‘video programming provider’ vs. ‘video programming distributor,’ or ‘live programming’ vs. ‘near-live’ or ‘prerecorded programming.’

b. Requirements for closed captioning of video programming

“Video programming distributors must provide closed captioning for nonexempt video programming” according to a schedule. Since January 1, 2006, all new English programming must be captioned. Since January 1, 2010, all new Spanish video programming must be captioned.

c. Obligation to pass through captions of already captioned programs; obligation to maintain equipment and monitor for captions.

This puts the onus on video programming distributors to ensure content is aired with adequate captioning.

d. Exempt programs and providers

Certain video programs and their providers are exempt from the normal closed caption regulations. Some reasons for exemptions include:

  • Programming subject to prior contractual captioning restrictions
  • FCC grants them a waiver
  • Video content is not in Spanish nor English
  • Audio content is displayed visually already through text or graphics
  • Late-night TV aired between 2am-6am
  • PSAs under 10 minutes long
  • EBS programming
  • Locally public interest non-news programming with no repeat value
  • Primarily non-vocal music programming

This is not an exhaustive list. Be sure to read the full list of exemptions.

e. Responsibility for and determination of compliance

This section is broken into 11 parts that address specific circumstances for how and when entities comply with closed captioning rules. For example, open captions or subtitles in the language of the intended audience may be used in lieu of closed captions.

f. Procedures for exemptions based on economically burdensome standard

Video programmers or distributors may petition the FCC for an exemption on the basis of economic hardship. This relieves the provider of their closed captioning obligations if they would prove too financially burdensome.

g. Complaint procedures

This outlines the procedures by which consumers can lodge a complaint about insufficient closed caption compliance. The FCC recently revamped their consumer help center website, so submitting a complaint is easier than ever before.

h. Private rights of action prohibited.

The FCC has sole jurisdiction over handling complaints of violations of this rule.

i. Contact information

Video programming distributors must make contact information available to the FCC and to the public for the purposes of receiving and addressing closed captioning concerns raised by consumers.

j. Captioning quality obligation; standards

This section details the FCC’s standards for closed caption quality concerning accuracy, synchronicity, completeness, and placement. Broadcasters must provide near-perfect, or at least 99% accurate closed captions for an entire program, timed correctly and without obscuring important visual information onscreen.

k. Captioning Best Practices

The FCC recommends best practices for maintaining high quality captioning and efficient caption vendor workflow.

Other miscellaneous best practices address video transcription style (verbatim vs. clean read), captioning music lyrics, and real-time captioning.

Who Needs to Comply with the FCC’s Rule 79.1?

The FCC rule governs all television broadcast media aired in the United States. This includes all pre-recorded TV shows, movies, commercials, and clips. Rule 79.1 has slightly different standards for closed captioning live or nearly-live content.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) extends the FCC’s closed captioning regulations to the web. That means that websites and web-streaming services like Hulu and Netflix need to provide closed captions for all video content that previously aired on US TV with captions.

How to Comply with Rule 79.1

The best way for a media broadcaster or distributor to comply the FCC’s rule 79.1 is to work with a professional closed captioning company that’s FCC-compliant. Your captioning vendor must be able to produce highly accurate video transcripts at scale, possibly with a tight turnaround time.

Help yourself to a free whitepaper on how to select a closed captioning company.

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