FCC tells Web TV providers to start using online captions next month

Online video shown on TV network and Web video sites will come with closed captions starting Sept. 30, the FCC has decreed, sticking to a deadline it set earlier this year.

In reaffirming the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, the FCC answered pleas from deaf and hard of hearing viewers who wanted content that's shown on TV to have closed captions when streamed online. The only hiccup in the plan for the disabled is that the industry won't need to provide customizable captions until early 2014, 16 months after the original captions go onscreen.

Disability advocates have, for some time, claimed Web video providers don't do enough to help disabled viewers access their clips. Both CNN and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), in fact, have been sued over this issue.

One successful step in the process was the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Accessibility Act and its rules on how traditional TV networks and online distribution partners present material on the Internet. The FCC, given the responsibility of setting a deadline when media companies would have to add captions, earlier this year set the date as Sept. 30--which is now when the Commission expects online video purveyors to comply, whether they like it or not.

And, if past experience tells anything about the present, they don't. The Digital Media Association, with members like Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and YouTube, asked for more time to make things work. The FCC respectfully declined and stuck with the Sept. 30 deadline.

The loophole--if it can be called as much--is that the content suppliers "won't have to provide raw captioning data to the Web video player to allow for further customization," according to a story in GigaOm. This means that consumers--at least at the start--won't be able to change font size and color of captions for another 16 months. On the other hand, starting Sept. 30, they will get basic captions.

The other qualifier is that the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act only covers programming that's also shown on TV. It doesn't include online-only programming, so even TV news clips edited for the Web aren't covered. Those separate issues, no doubt, will be up next on the agenda for disability advocates.

For more:
- GigaOm has this story

Related articles:
Trade groups hunt for online-video exemptions from disability-access rules
Captioning company partners with Brightcove

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