By Daniel Kahn and Paul Swain
The FCC has adopted new rules regarding closed captioning quality for television programming. At its meeting yesterday, the Commission unanimously approved a Report & Order that will establish four “non-quantitative” quality standards for closed captioning, requiring captions to be (1) accurate, (2) synchronous, (3) complete, and (4) properly placed. The Report & Order will also address a number of related issues, including captioning of live and near-live programming, responsibility for ensuring caption quality, and new requirements for broadcast stations using Electronic Newsroom Technique.
Live, Near-Live, and Pre-Recorded Programming. The new rules will distinguish between live, near-live, and pre-recorded programming in the application of the four quality standards—pre-recorded programming, for example, will be held to a higher standard than near-live and live programming, because of the increased opportunity to correct quality issues—but contrary to reports in the trade press that had been circulating, no hard, numerical distinctions will be established. (FCC staff noted after yesterday’s meeting, however, that there is “an understanding” that there should be “very few errors” in pre-recorded programming.) The Commission also approved a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) seeking comment on how to improve captioning of live and near-live programming, among other issues.
Responsibility for Ensuring Caption Quality. Under the new rules, video programming distributors (“VPDs”) will be held responsible for ensuring caption quality. VPDs will be required to “make best efforts” to receive certification that captioning complies with the quality standards, that it meets certain industry best practices, or that it is exempt from captioning requirements. However, the FNPRM will seek comment on whether responsibility for caption quality should remain with VPDs, or whether and how it should be reapportioned among the entities involved with providing closed captioning. Commissioner Pai stated that the rules adopted “recognize the limited ability of [VPDs] to control captioning quality” and identified consideration of responsibility as a “near-term” issue. FCC staff also noted that in some cases, programmers “may be in a better position” to address quality issues.
New ENT Requirements. The Report & Order will contain additional requirements for broadcast stations permitted to use Electronic Newsroom Technique (“ENT”). Specifically, broadcasters using ENT will be required to pre-script more of their news programming, including sports, weather, and most late-breaking stories. Additionally, the new rules will require that crawls and other visual information be used to provide visual access to certain news segments that cannot be pre-scripted.
Procedural Improvements. The FNPRM will seek comment on measures to enhance access to and improve FCC procedures (including creation of an online dashboard that would allow consumers to monitor the status of closed captioning complaints), as well as methods of reporting captioning outages.
Declaratory Ruling. The Commission also approved a Declaratory Ruling that will clarify and reaffirm existing rules with respect to captioning of on-demand programming and bilingual English and Spanish programming, obligations of low power television stations, and VPD contact information.
Further details about the new rules, including compliance deadlines, will be available once the decision is released. The FCC’s news release about the decision is available here.