FCC Shared Responsibilities: Defining the Roles

On February 18, 2016, the FCC implemented amendments to its rules on closed captioning of televised video programming to help clarify which bodies are responsible for the quality and the technical aspects of the delivery of closed captions on television. In a publication posted to the Federal Register last week, the FCC has assigned September 22, 2016, as the effective date for these new responsibilities.

In short, the FCC will now be holding the individual Video Programmers (producer, ministry, etc.) responsible for meeting the closed captioning quality standards in addition to holding TV stations responsible for broadcasting closed captions correctly.  Video Programmers will also be required to register directly with the FCC in the future. More on that to come in the following weeks.

Follow the law or be ready to face the FCC directly.

Origin of the Rule

Months after the FCC had adopted the Closed Captioning Quality Order (PDF download) in February 2014, the Commission sought comment on a specific proposal by NBC Universal (Comcast) for a “burden-shifting enforcement model” that would place the initial burden of addressing captioning matters on VPDs, but then extend some captioning responsibilities to Video Programmers (VPs). They opened an inquiry into whether the Commission should increase its direct regulation of video programmers.

Those efforts resulted in the Second Report and Order (PDF download).

In adopting this Second Report and Order, the FCC will now be moving to a shared responsibility model that, while still imposing primary responsibility on video program distributors (VPDs), will now shift some of that responsibility directly to the VPs that produce the content. Each entity will be responsible for closed captioning issues that are primarily within its control.

Who’s Who?

The Closed Captioning Quality Order (PDF download) defined Video Programmers (VP) as “entities that provide video programming that is intended for distribution to residential households including, but not limited to, broadcast or nonbroadcast television networks and the owners of such programming.” Video Programmers naturally are the entities with the most direct control over the quality of closed captioning of their programming. Also, sometimes referred to Video Programming Owners (VPOs).

Producers and owners of content, this is you.

Television stations and broadcast systems fall into the other category. In the 1997 Closed Captioning Report and Order (PDF download), a Video Programming Distributor (VPD) is defined as:

  • Any television broadcast station licensed by the Commission;
  • Any multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) as defined in Section 76.1000(e);
  • And, any other distributor of video programming for residential reception that delivers such programming directly to the home is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.

Allocation of Responsibilities

Video programmers will be responsible for providing and confirming the compliance of their captioning work for non-exempt programming up to the point of delivery to the VPDs. VPs will be responsible for ensuring the quality of closed captioning, certifying that it follows the FCC’s four required areas of quality standards: accuracy, synchronization, completeness, and placement. They will also be responsible for delivering the content to the VPDs (via their preferred physical or file-based method) with the captions intact.

Video program distributors will be responsible thereafter. It will be the VPDs responsibility to ensure the successful pass-through of the captions; meaning, proper maintenance, and delivery of captioning work through the broadcast air-chain distribution. VPDs will still serve as the principal points of contact for consumer captioning complaints. It will only be after the VPD determines the problem is not within its control that the responsibilities will shift to the VPs.

The FCC also established a “compliance ladder” to encourage VPDs and VPs to promptly (within 30 days) resolve any reported issues through corrective actions and bypass the need for the Commission’s involvement. However, the Commission will reserve the right to sidestep that ladder and move directly to enforcement action if it is deemed necessary in any particular case.

Next week, we'll conclude with: FCC Shared Responsibilities: Caption Quality & Certification.