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In last week’s post on CVAA programming requirements I provided a very high level overview of the requirements. In this post I’ll dig more deeply into the specific requirements for captioning and what is covered.


The CVAA directed the FCC to update and extend its rules for captioning of video programming originally authorized by Section 713 of the Telecommunications Act. The pre-existing FCC rules required 100 percent of nonexempt new English and Spanish video programming to be closed captioned, and 75 percent of pre-rule English and Spanish video programming. They also required video programming distributors to pass through all captioning data and to establish procedures for monitoring the performance of equipment used in captioning delivery. They also established recordkeeping requirements for video programming distributors.

Television Programming Delivered Via the Internet

One of the most pivotal outcomes of the CVAA was the passage of FCC regulations requiring closed captioning of programming delivered via the Internet which previously aired on television. These rules were published in 47 CFR 79.4. They require that closed captions be included with all full-length programming delivered to consumers using the Internet that previously aired on television in the United States. These rules apply to distributors such as Hulu, Netflix and iTunes which allow viewers to watch shows online that were previously shown on television. They do not apply to media that is consumer-generated; that is, content not professionally created for broadcast. Beginning January 1, 2016, a single clip of a show that previously aired on television must include closed captioning. Beginning January 1, 2017, this requirement applies to multiple clips of the same show. The requirement applies to clips of live programming as of July 1, 2017. The rules also place obligations upon video programming owners, distributors and providers of covered content. Video programming owners are obligated to provide closed caption content equal in quality to that shown on television, with the SMPTE-TT file format considered to be a safe harbor distribution format. Video programming distributors and providers are obligated to render and pass through all covered closed caption content without any degradation of quality.

Video Playback and Recording Devices

In response to the CVAA, the FCC expanded its rules for analog and digital television receivers and converter boxes to include recording devices and all devices that are involved in the viewing of video programming. By December 20, 2016, all media players and set-top boxes with built-in closed captioning capability  must include a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a key, button or icon to activate the captioning as required by 47 CFR 79.109. Of significant note is the new rules mandating the ability to adjust the way captions are displayed. The requirements are published in 47 CFR 79.103 and apply to players manufactured or imported into the United States as of January 1, 2014. Players with screen sizes of 13 inches or greater must implement these requirements if “technically feasible,” whereas screens of less than 13 inches are held to a lower standard of “achievability.” Captioning functionality that must be implemented in covered players includes:

  • Presentation – the ability to display the captions in the same or a separate window, and support for the following presentation modes:
    • Text that appears all at once (pop-on)
    • Text that scrolls into view (roll-up)
    • Real-time text display of characters as they are typed (paint-on)
  • Color adjustment – characters can be displayed using the 64 colors defined in CEA-708 and the ability to override the default colors among a palette of 8 colors
  • Character opacity – the ability to vary the opacity (opaqueness and transparency) of the characters
  • Character size – the ability to vary the size of characters from 50 percent of the default size to 200 percent
  • Font adjustment – the ability to select among the eight fonts required by CEA-708
  • Caption background – the ability to adjust the caption background colors and vary the background opacity
  • Character edge attributes – the ability to select among the following character edges:
    • No edge attributes
    • Raised edges
    • Depressed edges
    • Uniform edges
    • Drop shadowed edges
  • Caption window color – the ability to display the caption window using the 64 colors required by CEA-708 and the ability to override the window color and vary the window opacity
  • Language – the ability to select among multiple captioning languages when provided

Captioning of Emergency Information

The CVAA directed the FCC to pass rules requiring accessibility of emergency information that is provided on television. The FCC passed such rules which were published as 47 CFR 79.2. They direct video programming distributors to provide closed captioning for any emergency information provided in the audio track of the video signal. The closed captioning must be provided using one of the methods of visual presentation used for video programming described in 47 CFR 79.1.

Captioning Quality Standards

In response to significant public feedback concerning the poor quality of closed captioning that was being provided for television broadcasts, the FCC adopted captioning quality standards on February 20, 2014 under report and order FCC 14-12. They compel video programming distributors to exercise best efforts to obtain certification from each video programmer that supplies programming to the distributor stating that the FCC quality standards and best practices for captioning are being followed. The captioning quality obligations include:

  • Accuracy – matching the words or lyrics in the original language provided In the audio track in the same order rendered without substitution or paraphrasing. Spelling, punctuation and capitalization must be correct. Correct Grammar, use of tense, singular and plural forms and numeric representations in words or symbols must also be used as they are in the audio track. Information not presented visually such as speaker identification, the presence of music, sound effects and audience reaction must be rendered in the captions to the greatest extent possible. Captions must also be legible with appropriate spacing between words.
  • Synchronicity – captions must coincide with the audio track to the extent possible. Captions should begin an end during the same time as the content in the audio track. Captions shall also be displayed on screen at a speed that permits them to be read by viewers.
  • Completeness – captions shall run for the full length of the program to the fullest extent possible
  • Placement – captions shall be viewable and not block other important visual content. Caption font size, line spacing and positioning to avoid running off the screen shall be implemented to make the captions legible.

The FCC also established captioning best practices to be adopted by video programmers. Best practices were created for agreements between video programmers and captioning vendors including the establishment of performance standards to promote the creation of high quality closed captions, verification requirements to monitor caption quality and provisions to train employees and contractors. Operational best practices were also established for video programmers including providing captioning vendors with access to preparation materials such as show scripts, lists of proper names used and song lyrics; access to high quality audio; offline or live display captioning of prerecorded programming whenever possible; monitoring and remedial procedures to correct captioning errors; and certification procedures to demonstrate to video programming distributors that these best practices are being followed. The FCC also issued best practices for real-time (live) captioning vendors, real-time captioners, and offline (prerecorded) captioning vendors.