Closed Captioning Quality

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1 Closed Captioning Quality FCC ADOPTS NEW CLOSED CAPTIONING QUALITY RULES This memo summarizes the new quality rules for closed captioning adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 1 The new standards will be effective March 15, The FCC s Revised Rules The FCC amended its rules to ensure that caption quality more closely matches audio presentation so that video programming is as understandable to the nonhearing person as it is the hearing person. Caption Quality Standards The FCC established four non-technical quality standards for captions: accuracy, synchronicity, completeness, and placement. Accuracy. Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue in their spoken language (English or Spanish), to the fullest extent possible, including full lyrics, when provided on the audio track. This means captions must contain all words in the order spoken, without paraphrasing; proper spelling, provide proper punctuation, and capitalization; the proper tense; and an accurate representation of numbers. Captions must convey the manner and tone of the speaker, including intentional use of slang or grammatical errors that express the speaker s intent. Note that utterances such as um and other fillers must be captioned if needed for the viewer to understand the program. 1 Closed Captioning of Video Programming, Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 29 FCC Rcd (2014). 2 Per FCC staff guidance. The March 15, 2015 effective date will be published in the Federal Register Notice announcing Office of Management and Budget approval.

2 Accurate captions also include nonverbal information that is not observable, such as who is speaking, the existence of music, sounds effects, audience reaction. Captions must also be legible. Synchronicity. Captions must appear at the time that corresponding speech or sounds begin and end approximately when the speech or sounds end. Captions must also be displayed at a legible speed. Completeness. Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program. Placement. Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, including: character faces, featured text (e.g., weather or news updates, or graphics), and other information essential to understanding a program s content. Captions must be appropriately sized, and not run off the edge of the video screen. Application of the Quality Standards to Pre-recorded, Live, and Near-Live Video Programming The Commission recognizes that certain types of programming may be more difficult to caption, depending on how near to airtime the video programming is finalized. Caption quality expectations vary based on whether captions may be reviewed and edited prior to airing. Prerecorded Programming. The Commission expects that programming that is produced, recorded, and edited in advance of its first airing (more than 24 hours before airtime) will be captioned offline and to have no errors, other than de minimus errors. In determining whether an error is de minimus, the FCC will consider the particular circumstances present, the type and reason for failure, whether the failure is ongoing, whether the program is understandable despite the error, and the time frame in which corrective action was taken. Real-time captioning for prerecorded programming should only be deployed if necessary. The Commission recognized, as part of the Best Practices (discussed below), commercial reasonable exceptions when real-time captioning may be necessary. Live Programming and Near-Live Programming. Live programming is programming that is shown on television substantially simultaneously with its performance. Near-Live Programming is programming performed and recorded less than 24 hours prior to airing on television. For the closed captioning quality rules, the FCC treats near-live programming as if it were live programming. Because there is no ability to edit live captions, the Commission will consider complaints on a case-by-case basis, and will take various factors into consideration.

3 Accuracy for Live and Near-Live Programming. The overall accuracy or understandability of the programming Whether the captions convey the equivalent to the aural track Whether errors prevented viewers from accessing the program Whether video programming distributors (VPDs) make best efforts to receive a certification from programmers that the programmer complies with the FCC s quality rules or Best Practices (discussed below). Synchronicity for Live and Near-Live Programming. The Commission recognizes that a delay in delivery of live captions is inevitable due to the time it takes the captioner to hear program audio, create captions, and transmit the captions to the viewer. It will consider technical limitations when reviewing complaints. Program Completeness for Live and Near-Live Programming. Captions must run from the beginning to the end of a program to the fullest extent possible. Placement for Live and Near-Live Programming. The FCC recognizes that some live programming, such as sports programming, use graphics and crawls and it may be challenging to avoid having captions block this data. The FCC will take this into consideration when reviewing any placement complaints. Compliance Certificate The FCC requires VPDs to exercise best efforts to obtain a certification demonstrating compliance with the caption quality rules from each of its video programmers in writing. The writing must request that the programmer make the certification widely available within 30 days after receiving a written request from a VPD. VPDs are required to check websites or other widely available locations to determine which programmers certify their compliance. If a VPD uses best efforts to obtain a certification from a programmer, and reports to the FCC the identity of any programmer who refuses to provide a certificate, the FCC will not sanction the VPD for caption quality problems outside of its control. This certification must attest that the programmer either: Complies with the captioning quality standards Adheres to the Best Practices for video programmers (discussed below) Is exempt from the closed captioning rules under an exemption, and the exemption must be specified.

4 Video Programming Provider (VPP) Closed Caption Quality Best Practices The Commission codified 1) industry and 2) captioning companies voluntary Closed Captioning Best Practices. VPPs are not required to comply with the Best Practices. However, if a VPP elects not to follow the Best Practices, the VPP will have to comply fully with the captioning quality rules discussed above, and will have to immediately respond to the Enforcement Bureau in the event of a complaint. The Best Practices are designed to ensure compliance and to provide an opportunity to first remedy captioning problems before involving Enforcement Bureau staff. Agreements with Captioning Services. VPPs who elect to utilize the Best Practices must enter into agreements with caption vendors that include performance requirements similar to the Closed Captioner Best Practices referenced in the Order. The agreement must include a means of verifying the performance requirements, and include provisions to ensure that caption vendor employees received appropriate training and have appropriate oversight. Operational Best Practices. VPPs complying with the Best Practices will do the following: If available, provide captioning vendors with advance access to preparation materials such as show scripts, song lists, lists of proper names, and song lyrics Make commercially reasonable efforts to provide captioning vendors with access to a high quality program audio signal Caption prerecorded programming offline, except when, in a programmer s commercially reasonable judgment circumstances require real-time captioning. Examples of commercially reasonable exceptions include: o A programmer s production is completed too close to initial airtime, or requires editorial changes up to airtime (e.g., news content, reality TV) o A program is delivered late o There are technical problems with the caption file o Late minute changes must be made to later network feeds (for example, when shown in a later time zone) due to unforeseen circumstances o There are proprietary or confidentiality considerations, or video programmers or channels with lots of live or topical time-sensitive programming, but also some prerecorded programming, use realtime captioning for all content to allow for immediate captioning in

5 the event of breaking news that interrupts scheduled programming (e.g., news channels) o Make reasonable efforts to employ live display captioning instead of real-time captioning for a prerecorded program if the completed program can be delivered to a captioner with sufficient time. Monitoring and Remedial Best Practices. These steps will improve identification and remediation of captioning errors. As part of the pre-air quality control process conduct periodic spot checks of offline captions on prerecorded programming to confirm the presence of captions Monitor TV program streams at the point of origination to confirm the presence of captions Provide to captioning vendors appropriate staff contacts who can assist in resolving captioning issues, and make captioning vendor contact information readily available if there is a problem Maintain for one year a log of reported captioning issues, including date, time, program title, and description of issues Perform accuracy spot checks within 30 days following notification of a pattern or trend of complaints from the FCC. Certification. VPPs complying with the Best Practices will certify to VPDs that they adhere to the requirements. VPPs must make the certifications widely available, for example, posting on their website. Video Programming Distributor Technical Rules Equipment Monitoring. VPDs must monitor equipment to ensure that captions are passed through to viewers intact. VPDs must keep records of their activities related to maintenance, monitoring, and technical checks of their captioning equipment to respond to consumer complaints. These records must be retained for two years. There is no reporting requirement, but the FCC may request the data to resolve an enforcement proceeding. Additional information is available at NAB.org or by calling the NAB Legal Hotline at NAB s Counsel Memos are intended to serve as a source of general information on legal issues of interest to the broadcast industry. Broadcasters seeking information on how the principles discussed in a Counsel Memo apply to their specific circumstances should seek the advice of their own attorneys.

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