FCC, mobile, IP-delivered Captions, FCC regulations and closed captions

The New Year Brings New Captioning Regulations

by Johnathan Moore ©

The new year has brought a couple new accessibility regulations, with a third coming to pass this July. The most recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate is the January 1, 2017 benchmark for captioning IP-delivered montage clips. Next, live and near-live clips need captions starting July 1, 2017. Finally, last December brought new requirements for televisions and set-top boxes with regard to access and ease of use for the visually and aurally impaired. Let’s see what these steps mean.


Montage Clips: January 1, 2017

This newest rollout of IP-delivered video captioning mandates requires captions on all montage clips. This may not sound like much, as the “montage” is usually associated with condensing long spans of time in film, which rarely has much dialogue. In reality, the FCC is referring to any previously-aired clip which has been spliced into a new collection – think of sports highlight reels or “Best Of” countdowns. Now every “Top 10” video file which includes content previously aired on TV must be captioned for the web.

After last year’s “direct lift” clips mandate, VITAC initiated a quick-turnaround solution for our biggest clients, allowing clients to drop video into a folder based on turnaround, and automatically receive caption files back in as little as four hours.


Live and Near-Live Clips: July 1, 2017

In six short months, live and near-live clips of programming that aired with captions on TV will be required to be captioned online. Distributers will have a 12-hour turnaround timeframe to associate live programming with captions on the web. The turnaround period for near-live clips is 8 hours. This relates to clips of news, sporting events, and late-night talk shows, among others.

VITAC is already offering 4-8 hour turnaround for thousands of sports clips per month, and is poised to increase our capacity in July, when our sports customers will need captions for clips captioned in our realtime department.


In Case You Missed It — Device Accessibility: December 20, 2016

As detailed in the public notice on “Accessibility Requirements for Television and Set-Top Box Controls, Menus, and Program Guides”, any device that is designed to play back videos manufactured on or after today must be compliant with established FCC accessibility requirements. This means most television-related devices must be “accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable,” and “must include a simple and easy-to-use way for activating [closed captioning] functions,” when possible. The mandate divides the media-consumption devices into two categories as follows:

  1. Hardware designed to receive/play video programming whether over the Internet or not, such as televisions, personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices with pre-installed video players or video apps
  2. Hardware designed to access programming services, such as cable set-top boxes.

The language comprehensively details the idea that if a device plays, or aids in the playing of video media, it needs to be accessible. There are caveats for “relatively small…service operators” and “display-only monitors and video projectors,” stating their compliance is not required until 2018 and 2021, respectively.

The notice also outlines the complaint process, advising on contacting the manufacturer, then the FCC if not satisfied with the manufacturer’s response. This is in line with the FCC’s caption-complaint recommendations, which gives responsibility first to programmers and networks before contacting the FCC.


With every new accessibility mandate, media grows more and more inclusive. These recent rollouts and those upcoming are all part of creating a landscape of content to be enjoyed by all.

FCC Announces Effective Date for Captioning Responsibilities Report and Order

Video Programmer and VPD Caption Responsibilities Take Effect September 22, 2016,  Certifications, New Caption Complaint Process to be Announced at Later Date

Earlier year, the FCC released a Report and Order clarifying television closed captioning responsibilities in regard to compliance with the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices that went into effect March 16, 2015.

We briefly reported on the order in February at its initial release.

The Report and Order officially was published in the Federal Register on August 23, 2016, so the amendments regarding responsibilities officially take effect 30 days from publication, September 22, 2016. This clarifies that:

  • It is the responsibility of the video programmer to ensure the ordering and presence of quality closed captioning on programming, while it is the distributor (broadcaster, cable, or satellite company) to make sure the captions pass through, and pass through correctly regarding any technical aspects.

The rest of the order regarding caption compliance certification and complaint procedures will not go into effect until they are reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and include specifically:

  • The video programmer, or the network, must certify compliance with the Quality Best Practices directly to the FCC annually. Or, if the video programmer is exempt from having to caption the programming, they must identify the reason (s).
  • “Burden shifting” of initial investigation of caption complaints to the VPD. Those with a caption complaint may file their issue with the VPD or directly with the FCC. If the VPD finds the issue to be on their end, they must notify the FCC and specify how they plan to correct the issue. If the VPD discovers it is not an issuse they’re responsible for after a thorough technical analysis, the video programmer must then conduct an investigation into the program in which the issue occurred and has 30 days to give a written response to the FCC. Complaints going to a VPD or the FCC should include the following:
    • Channel Number
    • Network
    • If going directly to the FCC, name of their VPD (cable/satellite company)
    • Program Title
    • Specifics of the Captioning Issue
  • A “Compliance Ladder” if a “trend,” or “pattern” of non-compliance of caption quality by a certain VPD is noticed,  that VPD will be notified by the FCC and have 30 days to file a written response on corrective action.

We will be following this closely, and will update when the effective date is announced of the latter parts of the amendment.

As always, VITAC, as the caption vendor, adheres to the best practices set forth in section 79.1(k)(2),(3) and (4) of the captioning rules, provided the programmer has adopted and follows the best practices set forth in 79.1(k)(1).

Contact us with any questions, or visit our Regulations pages.

By Brittany Bender

FCC To Possibly Extend Audio Description Rules

FCC Releases Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Expanding Audio Description Rules


Have you heard the buzz about audio description?

Audio description offers blind and low-vision audiences the opportunity to enjoy television or film programming. It is a narrative description of onscreen actions, visual cues such as characters and
costumes, and text appearing in graphics or the video. The track can be found on a secondary audio channel available on most television sets, accessible through the television’s menu.

Our last blog post focused on a settlement in which Netflix agreed to describe its popular streaming content and DVD rentals.

More big changes could soon be coming  to the world of audio description, or as it is often referred to, video description.

Currently, The FCC requires audio description on some television programming as mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Networks and programmers are required to describe and pass through description of at least 50 hours of described prime-time or children’s programming each quarter.

ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the top five nonbroadcast networks need to comply with the requirement in the top 25 markets (ranked by Nielsen based on their total number of television households).

The FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on April 1, 2016 that would expand the requirements for audio description in the following ways:

  • An increase in the requirement of audio description from 50 hours per quarter to 87.5 hours per quarter by the broadcast station or Mutlichannel Video Programming Distributor (MVPD).
  • An increase in the number of included networks required to audio describe from the four broadcast and five nonbroadcast networks to five broadcast and 10 nonbroadcast networks.
  • A no-backsliding rule, which ensures that once a network is classified  as an “included network” required to provide description, it will remain an “included network” even if it falls out of the top five broadcast or top 10 network rankings.
  • Removal of the current “threshold requirement” that nonbroadcast networks reach 50 % of MVPD households in order to be included in the description requirements.
  • A requirement that included networks provide dedicated customer service contacts who can answer questions and concerns about audio description.
  • A requirement that petitions for exemptions from the description requirements, or objections to those petitions, be filed with the FCC electronically.

The expansion of the audio description requirements would have a positive effect on the millions of people who rely on this service for the enjoyment of television.

Kathryn M. Zodrow in her comment to the FCC said, “Having video description now is very beneficial for me as a totally blind person because now I don’t have to rely on someone else that’s sighted explain to me what is happening on the screen.”

“…I want to point out that the population using the audio description service, the blind and visually impaired, and autistic and dyslexic populations among others, are consumers too,” said Bonnie J. Barlow in her statement to the commission.

In his remarks to the Commission, Micah Grossman stated, “…every outlet available should be made as accessible is possible so that the audience this service is intended for actually can experience and enjoy it. Further they should be able to enjoy their favorite programs with the freedom and availability that sighted users now take for granted.”

Stay tuned to our website and blog for updates as more develops in the commission making the NPRM an official ruling.

VITAC is proud to offer audio description services to both networks and producers.  Contact us for more information on how to make your programming accessible for all.

By Brittany Bender

FCC Report and Order Clarifies Captioning Responsibilities

FCC Caption Quality Second Report and Order

When the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices went into effect, there was a bit of confusion as to who would be responsible for ensuring compliance and resolving any closed captioning issues with the new regulations. Was it the captioning company, the video programming distributor, or the video programming owner/producer’s duty?

In an open meeting on February 18, the FCC revisited the issue, and is now adopting a Second Report and Order to a “shared-responsibility” of video programming distributors and video programmers.

In short, this order clarifies:

  • It is the responsibility of the video programmer to ensure the ordering and presence of quality closed captioning on programming, while it is the distributor (broadcaster, cable, or satellite company) to make sure the captions pass through, and pass through correctly regarding any technical aspects.
  • Addressing and resolving any closed captioning issue is the shared responsibility of the video programmer and the video programming distributor, based on which of them has “primary control” over the specific issue.
  • Video programming distributors must certify they have “exercised due diligence” that the closed captioning issue is out of their control before passing the complaint to the video programmer, but it is the responsibility of the video programmer to ensure the quality of the captions.
  • Video programmers are responsible for lack of captioning on non-exempt programs.
  • Video programmers must annually file compliance with FCC rules “governing the provision and quality of captions” and state if they are legally exempt from any of the regulations.

VITAC, as the caption vendor, adheres to the best practices set forth in section 79.1(k)(2),(3) and (4) of the captioning rules, provided the programmer has adopted and follows the best practices set forth in 79.1(k)(1).

Contact us with any questions.

By Brittany Bender

VITAC Participates in FCC Hosted PEG Roundtable Discussion

VITAC’s VP of Marketing, Heather York speaking at the FCC’s roundtable event to discuss closed captioning of PEG programming

Universities and local governments are increasingly making their PEG (Public, Educational, and Government) programming accessible with closed captions. This type of programming can range anywhere from a locally produced talk or magazine show to a city council meeting that is either streamed or broadcast on a local access channel.

VITAC‘s own VP of Marketing, Heather York, was invited to provide remarks for the second of three sessions at the FCC’s roundtable event to discuss closed captioning of public access and governmental programming on Thursday, November 10, 2015.

The event panelists consisted of local government professionals, policy makers, captioning vendors, consumer groups, engineers, and video programmers.

The first session touched on reasons and benefits of captioning PEG programming. The panel featured FCC Deputy Chief of the Disability Rights Office Eliot Greenwald, Deputy Chief of the Disability Rights Section in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice Amanda Maisels, Executive Director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) Claude Stout, and President of the Alliance for Community Media Mike Wassenar.

The second session’s focus was best practices for captioning and technical issues for PEG programming. In addition to our own Heather York, panelists featured were Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Diane Burstein, President of LNS Captioning Carol Studenmund, VP of Marketing at 3Play Media Tole Khesin, and Associate Professor and Director of the Technology Access Program at Galludet University Christian Volger.

Heather spoke about realtime captioning, and what PEG channels should consider when hiring a captioning company, and streaming program via Internet Protocol (IP). She touched a bit on the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices, and how programmers should measure quality. She also stated that IP captioning is no longer a challenge.

The third and final session’s topic was on how to expand closed captioning of PEG programming. These panelists were President and CEO of Flarean Jason Barnett, Operations and Production Manager at the St. Paul Neighborhood Network Steve Brunsberg, Media Services Manager and Executive Producer for County Cable Montgomery Donna Keating, Executive Director of the National Association of the Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Steve Taylor, and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator for the Massachusetts State House and member of the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities in the City of Boston Carl Richardson.

The goal of the event was to promote discussion about benefits of captioning PEG programming and to, “raise awareness of the issues surrounding captioning of public access and governmental programming.” You can read more or watch full video of the discussion on the FCC’s event page.

VITAC is proud to caption many types of PEG programs in both our offline and realtime departments and is dedicated to helping make it accessible for all. Contact us for more information.

By Brittany Bender

FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: In Effect Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday’s the big day!

Caption Quality Best Practices are effective Monday, March 16th! Here’s how we’re working with our customers to ensure the four pillars of caption quality are met:
Accuracy: Realtime: We’re working with our clients so they can provide us with preparation material including scripts, lists of important names and terms, song lyrics, and rundowns of live programming to the extent available. Our realtime captioner utilizes these resources to prepare for shows ahead of time. This way, nothing catches them off guard when the show is airing in real time.
Offline: To ensure our offline captioners can achieve captions as verbatim as possible, we’re working with our customers to let them know they can send us a script of their program if it is possible. This is especially helpful if the show features a cast with heavy accents or regional dialects that include terms unfamiliar to most viewers.Synchronicity:

Realtime: We’re working with our customers to make sure they’re sending us quality audio and video via IP, satellite and POTs lines to make sure our captioners are receiving the best quality audio and video. If they’re not struggling to understand what is being said, they’re more likely to caption quicker.

Offline: We’re working to ensure our customers send us the final video, sweetened and as it will be sent to the network, so that our captions will match exactly as it will be seen on TV.
Completeness:Realtime: If we can receive a detailed rundown and schedule, we will know exactly when a program will end, and ensure we end at the same time. This is especially important for shows which don’t run according to a normal clock. For example, NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” begins at 11:35 PM. The show is scheduled for an hour, but usually ends around 12:37 AM. “Tonight Show” rundowns time out each segment so our staff knows when exactly the show should end.
Offline: Again, final video! If we have the final video as it will air, the full show will be captioned!
Placement: Realtime: We’re working with our customers to be sure that any lower third graphics are not covered, and any adjustments are not covering foreheads or other graphics. This includes ensuring scoreboards during sporting events are not blocked by captions.
Offline: We’re bumping captions out of the way of on-screen graphics and subtitles, so everything can be seen and experienced by our viewers.

If you happen to notice captions that don’t seem to be in compliance with the new best practices, send an email to marketing@vitac.com with your concerns and we’ll work with you to resolve any issues!

FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Verbatim Offline Captioning

In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, “FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained”.
Our last post explained how video programmer and caption vendor technical contacts can improve caption quality.

Today we will discuss how VITAC complies with 79.1(k)(4)(i) and 79.1(k)(4)(ii) of the Caption Quality Best Practices, specifically offline (pre-recorded) captioning.What the rule says: Caption vendors must “Ensure offline captions are verbatim,” and “Ensure offline captions are error-free.

What the rule means: Our offline captioners must caption exactly what is said.

How the rule helps improve caption quality: Viewers of captions should have the same experience as people who can hear. Our captioners are trained to transcribe everything that they hear, whether it be spoken clearly, with an accent, or mumbled.

VITAC’s captioners take multiple approaches to ensure that viewers achieve the best possible understanding of the program when viewing our captions:
Treatment Sheets: Any time our offline department begins transcription on a new series, the captioner builds a treatment sheet. In the offline captioning world, a treatment sheet is a document that lists terms and confirmed spellings that will be used frequently throughout the show. If one of our employees was new to captioning “Moonshiners,” and heard the phrase “nip joint,” and didn’t know how to spell it, they would simply refer to the treatment sheet, where they would learn that is a place to sell moonshine.

Collaboration and review: Should an captioner have an issue hearing or understanding something being said in a program, they have a whole team that they can ask to listen to the problem or phrase right near them since over 80 people work different shifts in our offline department. A senior captioner or one of our offline supervisors may have experience with a certain program or may be familiar with the type of accent or dialect in the series. Many debates have risen over British-accented characters in particular.

Going to the source: We may also be able to get some clarification straight from the show’s transcript. If one of our captioners isn’t familiar with a term or phrase, perhaps paired with a thick, British or Appalachian accent, we may ask the producer of the show to send along a script, or listen and provide their own interpretation. This is a particularly helpful option when captioning regional dialects, whether they’re foreign or even from parts of the United States.

VITAC goes to these great lengths to provide accurate offline captions. The expertise of our offline department along with these methods of verification is just another example of our dedication to quality captions.

By Brittany Bender

FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Caption Vendor Contact Information

In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, “FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained”.

Our last post reminded networks and producers that any pre-recorded program must have pre-recorded captions by our offline department, not by our realtime department as the show airs live, as stated in 79.1(1)(k)(ii)(C) of the Caption Quality Best Practices.

Today we discuss 79.1(1)(k)(iii)(C) of the Caption Quality Best Practices, Programmer and captioning vendor contacts.

What the rule says:The video programmers must… “Provide to captioning vendors appropriate staff contacts who can assist in resolving captioning issues. Make captioning vendor contact information readily available in master control or other centralized location, and contact captioning vendor promptly if there is a caption loss or obvious compromise of captions.”

What the rule means: Networks provide VITAC with the telephone numbers of personnel that can easily assist in the troubleshooting process if there is a loss or potential loss of captions. These phone numbers are available on a technical contact sheet at every desk in VITAC’s realtime production department. In turn, VITAC provides the realtime production hotline number to the networks in case any captioning issues arise. Our clients must have this number posted in a common area, such as a control room for easy access and prompt contact.

How the rule helps improve caption quality:

Video Programmers: About 20 minutes before every live broadcast of a captioned program, VITAC’s realtime production coordinators perform a caption test with the realtime captioner and the video programmer. Once the test has been verified, captions should appear at the start of the show. However, it is inevitable that technology malfunctions on occasion. Our coordinators verify captions at the beginning of every program. If captions are not present, the coordinator first tries to troubleshoot with the captioner. However, if the problem does not seem to be on VITAC’s end, the coordinator must contact the network immediately. Since the video programmers are required to provide qualified technical contacts and VITAC has this contact information readily available, the troubleshooting process is streamlined and captions return swiftly.

Captioning Vendors: VITAC’s realtime production department is staffed 24/7, 365. We provide our clients with the realtime production hotline, (724)-514-4053. When video programmers keep this phone number in a centralized location such as master control, they are able to access it quickly. It is guaranteed that one of our coordinators will answer, no matter what time of day or night. Whether in attempt to fix a technical issue, or for a last-minute caption request for breaking news or weather coverage, this phone number will guide video programmers to achieving realtime captions on the air.

VITAC is dedicated to being prepared in any situation. Having video programmer contact information available at every work station and providing networks with the realtime production hotline demonstrates our commitment to caption quality.

By Brittany Bender

FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Quick Update-Offline Captioning, Near-Live Programming

In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we will be continuing our series, “FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained” very soon.

VITAC is hearing from many producers struggling to meet the new FCC Caption Quality requirement for pre-recorded programming. Any show that is pre-recorded should have pre-recorded captions done by our offline department, not by our realtime department.

A number of stations and networks are requiring any video recorded more than 48 hours from the air time to be captioned offline. We’re accommodating these requests by expanding staff, increasing bandwidth, and offering quick turnaround for both the caption file preparation and encoding and delivery of MPG2/MXF files.
Stand by or contact us for more details.

Caption Quality Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support Part II

In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, “FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained.”

Our last post focused on a portion of 79.1(k)(2)(ix) of the Real-Time (Live) Captioning Vendors Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support, specifically the people responsible for supporting our captioners and customers. Today, we shift our attention to the systems and technical equipment keeping VITAC up and running 24/7.What the rule says: The captioning vendors must… ” Ensure there is an infrastructure that provides technical and other support to video programmers and captioners at all times.”

What the rule means: In order to produce quality captions, a caption company must maintain a state-of-the-art infrastructure that has been tested and is adaptable to constantly changing technology.
How the rule helps improve caption quality: VITAC takes great pride in a 99.9% realtime captioning uptime rate with no outage. Our clients don’t need to stress about the reliability of VITAC’s technical components. Our dedicated systems and engineering departments work tirelessly to keep up with all of the elements needed to produce the highest quality captions. While it is understandable that technical difficulties can occasionally happen, our software and hardware set the bar for the caption industry standards and includes:

-IP and Encoder Captioning Capability: All of VITAC’s realtime captioners have the capability to not only caption via modem, but to connect via IP and deliver captions in that manner, Many video programmers have recently upgraded their equipment to accommodate IP captioning. However, a lot of networks still use encoders and a modem connection for their broadcast captions. VITAC boasts the ability to use either, or a combination of both. Either mode of captioning is reliable, and rarely disconnects the captioner from the network, so there is minimal loss of captions.
-Satellite and Audio Feeds: Through a combination of satellite receivers, off-air antennas, audio backups and signal distribution, VITAC has access to receive and monitor virtually any program airing internationally, nationally or regionally. We possess a proprietary system in which these satellite feeds are able to be routed to all of our captions via an IP connection so the captioned broadcasts can be monitored in real time.
Audio telephone lines directly from video programmers can be used in conjunction with satellite feeds, or independently when satellite is not available.
Our technical center houses multiple telephone systems that allow us to receive program audio via standard telephone lines, and to patch that feed as line audio to all in-house and remote captioners.
-Redundant Equipment: Having redundant equipment allows for the utmost consistency and superior realtime and offline captions. All employee captioners have the same computer setups and encoder/IP settings. This allows for easy troubleshooting by our support staff, should a problem arise.

All captioners are trained on identical captioning and placement software, which allows for captions to be constantly created in the same way.
-Backup Power: Last year, VITAC upgraded the Uninterruptable Power Supply in our Pittsburgh, PA headquarters. The UPS powers all core critical electrical equipment and allows VITAC to function normally for up to 30 minutes in a total power loss. In that 30 minutes, the backup diesel-powered generator powers up. With this plan in place, it is assured that captions will not be interrupted, even for a second.
-Telecom Platform:
VITAC’s robust telecom platform allows for further redundancy, with multiple circuits for voice/dial tone and internet connectivity. Both systems include extensive, regularly tested backup paths to ensure once again that captioning can continue without interruption.
VITAC’s network, technical infrastructure/support and facilities are all managed with the greatest level of care and have undergone continuous upgrades and improvements to better serve our customers. In this way, we will continue to provide the highest quality captions that can be created and comply with the new FCC guidelines.By Brittany Bender