According to rules set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), almost everything on TV must be captioned, including Spanish and English programming, scheduled, and on-demand programming. “On TV” applies to anything a viewer receives over the air (antenna) or from a cable, satellite, or fiber subscription. For programming delivered via IP (Apple TV, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, etc.), see IP Programming Regulations. The most common exceptions to the captioning rules are:
Read more about exemptions to the FCC’s Captioning Rules.
On February 24, 2014, the FCC released a Report and Order outlining a series of best practices to be followed by programmers and caption vendors, among others, effective March 16, 2015. VITAC helped to draft the captioning vendor best practices and will certify to our customers that we are in compliance. We’ve summarized programmer and captioning vendor best practices below – please see the FCC’s website for complete details.
Read more about the rules.
Captioning for most live TV programming is created by specially trained stenocaptioners who listen to a program and “write” what they hear on a steno keyboard. The captioners’ keystrokes are translated by their computer into captions. The captions are transmitted to the broadcaster via modem or IP, and are incorporated into the TV signal. Realtime captioning is the most accurate way to caption live TV and must be used by the major national broadcast television networks and their affiliates in the top 25 markets as defined by Nielsen.
Stations outside the top 25 markets may not be able to afford realtime captioning. As such, they are permitted to use “Electronic Newsroom Technique,” whereby the scripted information read by anchors and reporters is transmitted as captions to the viewer.
As part of the FCC’s caption quality Report and Order, strict rules were put in place to ensure ENT captioning was as complete as possible. These rules include the scripting of in-studio produced programming and weather interstitials. Stations must also appoint an “ENT coordinator” responsible for ensuring compliance with the new rules.
The FCC requires local affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC located in the top 60 markets and the top 5 non-broadcast networks to provide 50 hours per quarter (4 hours per week) of described primetime or children’s programming.
The top five nonbroadcast networks currently are Disney Channel, History, TBS, TNT, and USA.
In addition to these networks, many PBS stations provide video discription on their programming voluntarily.