FCC Orders Closed Captioning of Certain Online Video Clips


The FCC has adopted new rules, pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CVAA”) that will require closed captioning of many video clips that are posted online.  The Commission ultimately intends its CVAA rules to expand access to all forms of video programming by Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing when they watch video content on the Internet.  Its new rules take a big step to achieve this result.

Today, most full-length video programs shown on TV with closed captions to be similarly captioned when they are shown on the Internet.  The new rules extend this obligation to most video clips shown by broadcasters, as well as by cable and satellite programming distributors.  However, the new rules exempt third-party websites or mobile apps from the captioning rule changes.[1]

The FCC established a variable schedule for compliance based on the type of video clip shown.  According to the FCC’s news release, the following deadlines apply:

  • January 1, 2016 applies to “straight lift” clips, which include a “single excerpt of a captioned television program with the same video and audio that was presented on television”;
  • January 1, 2017 will apply to montages, which are single file containing “multiple straight lift clips”; and
  • July 1, 2017 applies to “video clips of live and near-live television programming, such as news or sporting events.”  However, there is a 12-hour “grace period” to caption “live video programming” and an 8-hour “grace period” to caption “near-live programming.”[2]

The Commission declined to extend the new captioning obligations to a distributor’s Internet library until the compliance dates arrive, as the record demonstrated “retrofitting” existing programming would be “economically burdensome.”

Also, adopted by the FCC was a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which the Commission seeks comments as to whether it can reasonably extend closed-captioning requirements further.  Specifically, the FCC is considering:

  • Whether third-party distributors should bear closed captioning obligations;
  • Whether the “grace periods” for live and “near-live” programming should be shortened or eliminated;
  • Whether the captioning rules should be extended to cover so-called “mash-ups,” which are combinations of programming shown on TV and programming not shown on TV (such as Internet-only programming); and
  • Whether the captioning obligations should be extended to so-called “advanced” video clips, which the FCC defines as “those that are added to the distributor’s online library after the applicable compliance deadline but before the video programming is shown on television with captions, and which then remain online.”

Statements were issued by Chairman Wheeler, and Commissioners ClyburnRosenworcel and Pai. (Order/FNPRM not yet released).

If you have questions about the FCC’s Report & Order or Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, please contact Robert H Jackson at 703-714-1316 or by email: rhj@commlawgroup.com.

[1] Third-party websites and owners of mobile apps must, of course, have permission to display any copyrighted materials owned by others.

[2] “Near-live video programming is programming that is “performed and recorded less than 24 hours before being shown on TV for the first time.”

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