FCC passes online clip captioning requirement

In a unanimous vote, the FCC approved new rules that require online video clips to be captioned. The measure extends a 2012 captioning requirement that applied to long-form videos posted online, such as television shows and movies.

Video programming distributors, including broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers, now have three benchmark dates to meet when it comes to captioning short clips, like show promos or teasers.

  • "Straight lifts," or clips containing a single excerpt of a program that is exactly what was presented on television, with no video or audio changes, must be captioned by Jan. 1, 2016.
  • Montages, or clips which contain multiple straight-lift clips, must be captioned for online video by Jan. 1, 2017.
  • Live or near-live television programming, like news or sports clips, have until July 1, 2017, to be in compliance. Further, distributors have a 12-hour grace period after live programming is shown, and an 8-hour grace period after near-live programming, to caption their online clips.

Video clips that are in distributors' libraries before the compliance deadline are exempt from the rules, with the FCC saying requiring their captioning would be "economically burdensome."

The rules also don't apply to third-party websites or apps--but the FCC is asking for comment on whether to include these entities in further rulemaking.

Don't expect the issue of captioning to be resolved completely: The commission is planning additional rulemaking and is asking for comment on four key captioning areas. In addition to addressing whether third-party websites and apps must also comply with captioning requirements, the FCC wants to look at:

  • Decreasing or getting rid of the 12- and 8-hour grace periods for live and near-live captioning;
  • Applying captioning rules to "mashups," which combine one or more clips from previously shown TV programming as well as from other sources like online-only content;
  • Applying captioning rules to "advance" clips shown online before a TV program actually airs.

"Accessibility of programming must evolve with technology in order for us to maintain our commitment to universal access," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a statement following the vote. "When the number of U.S. households viewing TV programming exclusively on the Internet is poised to surpass the number viewing only via antenna, and 77% of Internet users regularly watch video clips online--often to get news, sports, and entertainment programming, it's time to update our closed captioning rules to reflect these changes."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that compliance with the new rules would "take work," but that television is changing fast and that progress needed to be made.

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai--who, like Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, concurred rather than voting yes or no--provided some dissent in his comments, saying that the cost involved in captioning hadn't really been taken into account.

"How much will the Commission's new closed captioning rules cost? What impact will those costs have on consumers? And on the benefits side of the ledger, how many video clips will be captioned after the rules begin taking effect in 2016 that otherwise would not have been made accessible? The item makes no effort to answer any of these questions," he wrote.

Distributor advocacy groups like the Digital Media Association (DMA), National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Telecommunications Association last week asked the FCC to delay the compliance deadlines. The DMA in particular said that captioning short clips would cost around the same as captioning a two-hour movie, a statement that captioning and subtitling provider Dotsub's Chief Revenue Officer Peter Crosby disputed in a comment on FierceOnlineVideo's website.

"In fact, all video captioning companies charge on a per minute basis, so a 2-hour movie would cost at least 100 X more than a 2-minute clip!" he wrote.

Congress passed the Communications and Video Accessibility Act in 2010, requiring long-form video presented online to be closed captioned starting in the fall of 2012. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) was 100 percent compliant with captioning in the U.S. market by 2014, thanks to assistance from third-party vendors like 3PlayMedia, which provides captioning services for a number of online media outlets including several educational and government entities and enterprises.

For more:
- see the release

Related articles:
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As FCC closed captioning deadline looms, online video industry largely silent
Netflix agrees to caption all online content by Sept. 2014