The FCC this week issued a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, suggesting that certain responsibilities for the captioning of video programming be reassigned from the Video Programming Distributor (the TV station or cable system) who has the direct contact with the viewer, to the producer of the programming as that is where the captioning usually is added to the programming. In asking questions about whether to look at reassignment of some or all of the legal obligations for captioning, the FCC also suggested that, were it to take such an action, program producers might need to register with the FCC so that complaints about their captioning could be directed to the proper location. As the new quality captioning system is driven by consumer complaints, the FCC suggests that, if programmers are not registered with the FCC, consumers will not be able to express their concerns about the quality of captioning. By asking about a possible reallocation of captioning responsibilities, and with captioning quality regulations about to go into effect in January, it appears as if the deadline for meeting the new rules seeking to insure the quality of captioning of video programming will be postponed – and we are now hearing that March 16 is the likely new date for the new captioning quality obligations to take effect.
The new captioning quality obligations were to take effect on January 15 (or a later date if the requirements had not been approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act by that date). They required that broadcasters insure that program captioning was of good quality, looking at quality goals including the following:
- Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises, music 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 or run off the edge of the video screen.
According to this week’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, many VPDs suggested after these quality rules were adopted in February, that it was really the program producers who insured that the captions were included in the programming, and they should be responsible for the quality of those captions. In reaction to those comments, the FCC has now issued this further notice. Watch for the comment date on this Further Notice (which will be set when the document is published in the Federal Register) at which time we understand that it is likely that a formal extension of the effective dates of the captioning quality rules will be issued. So keep watching for these announcements.