FCC Shared Responsibilities: Caption Quality & Certification

A few weeks ago, we announced that the FCC published their final ruling on the responsibilities related to the provision and quality of closed captions on pre-recorded programming (FCC: Captioning Assurance Now a Shared Responsibility) effective September 22, 2016. To producers and owners of content, you are now directly responsible for providing and confirming the compliance of captioning work for non-exempt programming.

The Commission’s on-going attention to closed captioning quality, along with the NAD’s persistent class action lawsuits against universities, Netflix, Hulu, movie theaters, and airlines, are further proof that captioning work still remains inconsistent throughout the industry.

As a captioning company, we passionately support any efforts put in place to ensure that the industry can support and enforce these standards.

Quality Standards

As a review, the quality standards put in place by the FCC in 2014 focus on four key areas:

  • Accuracy. Closed captioning must match the spoken words in the original language without paraphrasing. Song lyrics and nonverbal information, such as the identity of the speaker and any sound effects or audience reactions present in the program, will be captioned.
  • Synchronization. Captions need to be accurately synchronized to match the video and audio content displayed at a readable speed.
  • Completeness. Captions are required to be complete and present through the full length of the program.
  • Placement. Proper placement dictates that captions cannot block important visual content such as speaker’s faces and any graphics or text on the screen.

The Problem with “99% Accurate”

Now that video producers will be directly responsible for answering any complaints made to the FCC, the days of seeking out the cheapest possible captioning service without regard for quality are over.

Low cost providers, means low-quality providers.

The offering of “99% accurate” sounds great and about as near to perfect as you can get. However, if that was the goal of the FCC, the Closed Captioning Quality Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, FNPRM would state “99%” as being acceptable. They don’t. The Commission expects the captions to be perfect with maybe only a few de minimis errors. There’s time to review them, edit them, and make them perfect.

To put “99%" into perspective in regards to closed captioning, consider the average individual speaking at 160-200 words-per-minute. Ninety-nine percent would allow two errors per minute, translating to up to 60 errors in a 30-minute television program.

Imagine if the new J. K. Rowling novel had one error every 100 words.

Registering Certificates of Closed Captioning Compliance

Video programmers will now be required to submit annual certifications of closed captioning compliance directly to the FCC ensuring their compliance with the captioning rules, their commitment to following best practices, or that their program is exempt. It will no longer be the obligation of the VPDs to collect the certificates of captioning compliance as it has been for the past year.

We defined the roles and responsible of each the VPs and VPDs is our post earlier this month: FCC Shared Responsibilities: Defining the Roles.

Video programmers will need to assign a person within their organization responsible for confirming their compliance and have them register with the FCC along with their certification. Much like VPDs already do with the FCC’s database, this new contact will need to submit their name, title, telephone number, mailing address, and email address.

This video programmer’s registration area of the FCC’s online portal is forthcoming, with July of 2017 the projected date. VPs must continue to provide widely available certifications on their websites and through other means, as is required under the rules adopted in 2014.

We will post more information on the FCC web form as it becomes available.