The FCC Plans Rules to Upgrade Quality of Closed Captioning

fcc-logoRecently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued new, more comprehensive rules designed to increase the quality of closed captions on television. The intent of the rules, announced February 20, 2014 by FCC Chairman Thomas “Tom” Wheeler, is to ensure the deaf and hard of hearing communities have full access to programming.

The new rules provide long-requested guidelines, in the form of best practices, for video programmers and captioning vendors. The rules distinguish between pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming and explains how the new standards apply to each type of programming, recognizing the greater hurdles involved with captioning live and near-live programming.

Quality Standards for Captions

The new rules deal with quality standards for accuracy, synchronicity (timing), program completeness, and placement of closed captions. The rules state that captions must be:

  • Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible.
  • Synchronous: Captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible and must be displayed on the screen at a speed that can be read by viewers.
  • Complete: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
  • Properly placed: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another, run off the edge of the video screen, or be blocked by other information.

Best Practices Outlined

Best practices were created from proposals from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, and several captioning agencies. For video programmers, the practices include:

  • Providing high-quality program audio signals to promote accurate captioning transcriptions
  • Providing captioning vendors with advance access to show scripts, proper names and song lyrics, making it easier to caption live programs

Best practices for captioning providers are outlined:

  • Ensuring the proper screening, training and supervision of their captioners
  • Taking measures to ensure that their technical systems are functional, to prevent service interruptions

Requirements for Broadcasters

Broadcasters who are permitted under the Commission’s rules to convert teleprompter script into captions are now required to pre-script more of their news programming, including sports, weather, and most late-breaking stories. The pre-scripting requirement will result in captioning for some news programming that previously aired uncaptioned. And to provide visual access to certain news segments that can’t be pre-scripted, crawls and other visual information must be used.

Additional Points

The far-reaching ruling addresses several items:

  • Multicast channels
  • Technical equipment monitoring
  • Recordkeeping
  • A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on re-apportioning some of the captioning responsibilities and on ways to continue to improve accessibility to TV programming and improve the commission’s procedural rules.
  • A Declaratory Ruling clarifying existing rules defining requirements for on-demand programming, bilingual English and Spanish programming, obligations of low-power TV stations, and video programming distributor contact information.

To discuss how the new FCC ruling impacts your captioning project, contact Dynamic Captioning’s National Sales Manager Greg Wolf at or 310.770.5049. For specific details of the rules are in the Commission’s document.

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