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Web TV needs to have captions starting next month, the FCC rules

TV networks and web video sites will have to start providing closed captions for any TV content available online by the end of September, the FCC ruled a few days ago (PDF of the ruling). The ruling reaffirmed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which was signed into law by President Obama in October of 2010, as well as an FCC ruling from earlier this year. However, the industry got a bit of a break, with the FCC ruling that they won’t have to provide customizable captions until early 2014.

Captions for web video have been a bit of a hot button issue for some time: Disability advocates have been arguing that web video providers aren’t doing enough to make their clips accessible to disabled viewers, and have actually sued both CNN and Netflix (s NFLX) over missing captions.

They also successfully pushed for the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which largely focuses on the way traditional TV networks and their online distribution partners present their fare on the internet. The law itself didn’t actually contain any firm deadlines for TV networks to adopt online captioning, but instead authorized the FCC to do so. The Commission set a September 30 deadline earlier this year, but the Digital Media Association, whose members include Amazon (s AMZN), Apple (s AAPL) and YouTube (s GOOG), argued that the industry needed more time.

The FCC didn’t agree, and is sticking with the September 30 deadline – with one big exception: Distributors of TV content will have to render closed captions, but they won’t have to provide the raw captioning data to the web video player to allow for further customization. What does that mean? The original FCC rule included a mandate that would have allowed consumers to change the font size and color of captions to improve readability. These requirements now have been postponed for another 16 months. Starting September 30, deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers will have a right to access to basic captions, without these kinds of bells and whistles.

Of course, many sites already offer closed captioning for at least a part of their web video inventory, and that likely won’t change at the end of next month. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act only covers programming that’s also shown on TV, and exempts any online-only programming. Even TV news clips that have been edited for the web don’t fall under the requirement – but that likely won’t stop disability advocates from going after providers of these kinds of video.

18 Responses to “Web TV needs to have captions starting next month, the FCC rules”

  1. I am a content provider and it does cost us and we have to pass it on to our clients who do not have it in their budget. However for content we own we do support closed captioning however we have to have sponsors pay the cost which is not cheap when your program has no financial sponsorship for this additional cost. We are not an upstart however we also own streaming content services that this additional cost will be passed on to our clients which in some cases will increase the cost by 300% per program unless there is a lower cost solution for captioning.

  2. Pro Captioning

    I also must say that everything is moving to the internet, it seems that one day that is all that will exist, cyberspace. Your television will become an all in one device for everything from watching a program to calling a friend or ordering a pizza. That is why this is an important issue, beside the issue of equality and accessibility, eventually we will live our lives through the internet then what happen and what will it mean for the Deaf and HOH people of the world. This needs to begin now and in the most appropriate way possible because if this is a huge issue now it assuredly we become an even more oppressive situation in the future if action is not taken appropriately.

  3. I’m sorry, but captioning on the Internet is an absolute necessity. Especially if it’s breaking news.

    If you’re hearing, I’d suggest you sit there at your computer, and TURN OFF THE SOUND, and see how you like it.

  4. Mike Chapman

    Also it would be helpful to know what specifically is and is not covered under the rules. Apparently anything that HAS already been shown on any Broadcast (Network, Basic Cable, or Pay Cable) with Captions must have the captions ported to any online viewing.

    What happens when some companies (Crackle, Epix, etc) don’t have captioning on certain players? (Crackle JUST added captions to their mobile players — works well — but none on Roku or Xbox; Netflix still does not have captions on their software in older Roku boxes as well as several built-in boxes)

    Does netflix make “covered” videos just no longer available on these older players?? are older players exempt (like old TV sets were in the early 90s?)

  5. Mike Chapman

    I can’t help but wonder if this will increase captions or will we actually see a sudden DECREASE in the number of online videos until they have captions (but since it will be a lack of profit in the mean time, I am sure they will put a rush on their captioning efforts)

  6. Lazarus Walker

    Mark, I work on a Pokemon website. We have a team of around 12 volunteers working on YouTube videos. They are subtitling videos for free on their own time.

    I realize that’s hardly the same thing as live transcribing. However, companies like NBC, CBS, et cetera make millions off of deaf and HoH viewership alone (ask me how many deaf people I know with tivo) so there’s really no excuse.

    I mean if there wasn’t a law requiring wheelchair ramps then we wouldn’t have very many around because companies look for the easiest way to save a buck.

    I don’t see this not a slippery slope at all. I am deaf, and was born that way. I use and pay for the same services that you do. What’s wrong with demanding equality?

    Perhaps you’d like to go back to the times where we had ‘whites only’ signs all over the place?

  7. Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

    This is tantamount to censorship. This ruling creates a slippery slope – one that if seen to completion will ensure only broadcasters of a certain means will be able to broadcast, because believe me, live transcription is not cheap, nor is it easy.

    It also shows that the FCC is doing what it said it would never do: give itself license to regulate content of Web programming. I railed against this possibility during Network Neutrality hearings, and opponents called me alarmist.

    • Agreed. While I sympathize with people of disabilities, closed captioning is NOT cheap. The software is expensive and very time consuming and while I’m sure large networks and movie studios can pay this premium, small start ups cannot.

    • I totally agree that it is censorship and is just a convenient way to put small operators out of business. At the very least, there should be a revenue model that allows anyone under a certain revenue limit to be exempt…but I don’t like it one bit, smacks of more gov’t intervention.

  8. bearmon2010

    My opinion: Not a good enough!

    Look at the home television with closed captioning. Many closed captioning are scramble, missing closed captioning when advertising appear after news unfinished and many more. Unsatisfied!

    This is going to be delay too. No improvement so far as I can see.

    • It not the television show. its your cable station or the station in local handle the caption. you should contact the local or the billing that explain how to report if any caption problem.