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FCC Rules on Closed Captioning Quality

On February 24, 2014 the FCC issued a Report and Order which sets forth detailed closed captioning quality requirements for TV programs. These rules, which went into effect on March 16, 2015, also require video programmers to certify either that the closed captioning displayed on their programs meets the new quality requirements, or that they've adopted and follow certain specified best practices.

Closed Captioning Quality

The FCC now requires that all closed captions produced for prerecorded television programming adhere to the following quality standards:

Accuracy: The closed captioning must match the program audio, including any slang, and contain non-verbal information such as speaker identification, descriptions of music, sound effects, the attitudes and emotions of the speakers, and audience reaction. The closed captions must be free of spelling and grammatical errors, and use appropriate punctuation and capitalization, correct tense and proper singular or plural forms.
Synchronicity: The closed captioning must be accurately timed to the dialogue, lyrics and sound effects to the greatest extent possible, given the type of the programming, and must be displayed at a readable rate.
Completeness: To the greatest extent possible, closed captioning must run from the beginning to the end of the program.
Placement: The closed captions must not other important visual content, including faces, featured text, graphics, credits, and any other essential to understanding the program’s content.

In addition, the FCC mandated that video programmers ensure that prerecorded programs were close captioned by offline caption editors, using an offline closed captioning workflow, with very few exceptions.

In determining compliance with these rules, the FCC will take into account the inherent challenges of live captioning, but with respect to the closed captioning of prerecorded programming the rules permit only de minimis errors. For prerecorded programming, there really is no excuse for getting it wrong.

Closed Captioning Certification Requirements

The FCC now requires video program distributors to obtain a certification from video programmers that either their programs comply with the quality standards set forth above, or that they have adopted and followed certain specified Best Practices. One of the Best Practices which the video programmers are required to follow is to employ captioning vendors which follow the FCC specified Best Practices for offline captioning vendors set forth below.

Offline (Prerecorded) Captioning Vendors’ Best Practices
  • Ensure offline captions are verbatim.

  • Ensure offline captions are error-free.

  • Ensure offline captions are punctuated correctly and in a manner that facilitates comprehension.

  • Ensure offline captions are synchronized with the audio of the program.

  • Ensure offline captions are displayed with enough time to be read completely and that they do not obscure the visual content.

  • Ensure offline captioning is a complete textual representation of the audio, including speaker identification and non-speech information.

  • Create or designate a manual of style to be applied in an effort to achieve uniformity in presentation.

  • Employ frequent and regular evaluations to ensure standards are maintained.

  • Inform video programmers of appropriate uses of real-time and offline captioning and strive to provide offline captioning for prerecorded programming.

Video Caption Corporation’s closed captioning services have complied with the FCC’s caption quality standards, as well as the vendor best practices, since 1997 and we are happy to provide our clients with a certificate to that effect!

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