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Second Online Captioning Deadline Arrives March 30

As we have discussed at great length in the past, the FCC’s rules require that certain video programming delivered online be captioned if the programming previously aired on television with captions. The rules kicked in on April 30 of last year, and all video programming that appeared on television with captions after that date is considered “covered Internet Protocol (IP) video” and will ultimately need to be captioned when being shown online.

The first step of the captioning phase-in occurred on September 30, 2012. Since that date, stations have been required to display captioning for prerecorded full-length programming delivered via IP if the programming was first aired on television with captions on or after the April 30 date noted above.

The second phase of the FCC’s IP captioning rules begins March 30, 2013 (a Saturday), at which time the FCC’s IP captioning rules require all live and near-live programming subject to the rules and shown on television with captions to be captioned when delivered online. The FCC’s definition of “live” or “near-live” captures all programming performed simultaneously or recorded within 24 hours of its first transmission to a video programming distributor. Note that as long as they do not constitute “substantially all” of a full-length program, online video clips are currently exempt from the IP captioning rules.

As a result, the question we probably receive most often from clients about online captioning is: what exactly does the FCC mean by “substantially all” of a full-length program? It’s a good question that lacks a precise answer. The FCC intentionally decided not to provide a specific threshold for the length or number of clips aired that would constitute “substantially all” of a program. According to the FCC, it did not see “any evidence that Congress sought to exclude only clips of a certain duration or percentage of the full-length program.”

Parties should keep in mind, however, that the FCC will not allow them to game the system by simply “shaving” off a few minutes or brief segments of a full length program in order to avoid the IP captioning obligation. The FCC emphasized that “if there is clear evidence that an entity has developed a pattern of attempting to use video clips to evade its captioning obligations,” the FCC may find that a rule violation has occurred.

There is of course more to come. The captioning requirements for “full length” and “live or near-live” programming are just the beginning of the new IP captioning obligations being implemented in the near future. The next deadline is coming up soon with the September 30, 2013 requirement that all pre-recorded programming that is edited for Internet distribution be captioned for online viewing. Also, don’t forget there are separate captioning compliance deadlines for captioning of IP video programming that previously aired on television prior to the effective date of the rules, but that is shown again on television with captions after the effective date. Those phased-in captioning requirements are scheduled to take place between March 2014 and March 2016, with progressively shorter periods to caption the programming for IP video after it airs on television with captions.

As was the case with the original broadcast captioning rules, each phase-in “deadline” shrinks the amount of programming exempt from the online captioning requirement while requiring the distributor to tackle ever more complex captioning issues. IP captioning will therefore consume a growing portion of the attention of those posting broadcast video online. The big difference is that broadcast captioning was phased in over eight years (twelve years for Spanish language programming), whereas online captioning is being phased in on a much faster schedule.

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