Update on Closed Captioning Requirements
The FCC’s closed captioning requirements for new nonexempt English language video programming (analog and digital) increased Jan. 1, 2004, to 1,350 hours per channel, per calendar quarter, an increase from the 2003 requirement of 900 hours. The FCC’s closed captioning benchmarks apply to both new analog and new digital language programming. New analog programming is video programming published on or after Jan. 1, 1998. New digital programming is video programming prepared or formatted for display on digital televisions that was first published or exhibited on or after July 1, 2002.1 The next and final benchmark will become applicable on Jan. 1, 2006, when all new nonexempt English language programming must be captioned.
As a reminder, the FCC’s captioning requirements for pre-rule English-language video programming commenced Jan. 1, 2003. As of that date, 30 percent of all pre-rule English-language programming must be captioned. The FCC’s closed captioning benchmark for pre-rule English language programming applies to both analog and digital video programming. Analog pre-rule programming is video programming that was first published or exhibited before Jan. 1, 1998. Digital pre-rule programming is video programming prepared or formatted for display on digital television receivers that was first published or exhibited before July 1, 2002. By Jan. 1, 2008, 75 percent of all pre-rule English-language nonexempt programming will have to be captioned.
Additionally, as of Jan. 1, 2004, 900 hours (per channel/per quarter) of new nonexempt Spanish language programming must be closed captioned, an increase from the 2003 requirement of 450 hours. Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, all new nonexempt Spanish language programming must be captioned. The first benchmark for pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language programming is Jan. 1, 2005, by which time 30 percent of the pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language video programming distributed and exhibited on each channel during each calendar quarter must be captioned. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, 75 percent of the programming distributor’s pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language video programming must be provided with closed captioning. The dates for determining whether Spanish language programming qualifies as new or pre-rule are the same as for English language programming (set forth above).
The FCC imposed closed captioning compliance responsibility directly on video programming "distributors," defined as entities that provide video programming directly to customers' homes, regardless of the technology used (e.g., TV and LPTV stations; cable and wireless cable systems; ITFS, LMDS, SMATV, and OVS systems; and DBS, DTH, and HSD systems). In reality, however, the FCC recognizes that cable operators will contractually pass their captioning obligations to program networks.
Please contact us if you would like additional information concerning the FCC’s closed captioning requirements.
1 The test for determining whether programming is prepared or formatted for display on digital television receivers is not entirely clear. However, it is generally understood to mean that program networks transmitting in HDTV should comply with the requirements as soon as HDTV sets are cable ready. Some program networks already have begun to place 708 formatted captioning in their standard definition feeds in anticipation of the change-over.