An Overview of Closed Captioning Rules and Regulations

Is your film, TV series, video, or YouTube channel required to have closed captions?

The short answer is, “it depends.”  This is not a simple yes or no answer, so we’ll boil it down to the must-know guidelines here.

The FCC has been regulating broadcasting since the early ‘80s to ensure that programming is accessible to all audiences. Broadcasting has changed dramatically since then, and while some forms of programming are strictly regulated, the FCC is just beginning to review and implement rules and regulations on other forms.

Some highlights of what the FCC requires by law: 

FCC Requirements for TV

Per the FCC, “Congress requires video programming distributors (VPDs) — which include cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multi-channel video programming distributors – to close-caption their TV programs.”

This means that the FCC requires all television programming to offer closed captioning so that viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing have full access to programming. The FCC rules require that captions be accurate, well in sync, be properly placed in scene, and run the whole length of the programming.

FCC Requirements for DVDs, video games or home videos

The FCC does not regulate captioning for DVDs, video games, or home videos.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The technology to broadcast video content has dramatically changed since the ‘80s, and in 2010, President Obama signed the CVAA to update the federal communications law. The goal: to increase access to modern communications including digital, broadband, and mobile.

Some highlights of the CVAA include:

  • Broadcast video previously aired on U.S. television with captions must include captions when published on the Internet
  • Clips and montages of live programming are permitted a 12-hour delay for captioning after being shown on TV
  • An eight-hour delay is allowed for clips of near-live programming

What is excluded?

Consumer-generated media — such as homemade movies and videos that originate on the Internet —are not required to have captioning. 

Internet-only video content is also excluded, as long as it has not aired on American TV with captions.

Reach a Broader Audience with Closed Captioning

While video content producers and distributors need to operate within the laws and regulations of captions, that’s not the only reason for offering captions as there are many benefits.

Captioning is often used in locations where it may be difficult to hear, such as in a gym or restaurant. Captioning also allows a mobile viewer to enjoy your video content in a public space where sound may be discouraged.

At CMI, we partner with clients to ensure that captions capture your message as it was intended, meet all FCC requirements, and provide enjoyment through a seamless delivery to your end viewer.

There are many finer points to rules and regulations — involving factors such as the length of programming, time of broadcast, and likelihood of repeat value — and many of them can be found on the FCC’s website.

But don’t let the minutiae of regulations overwhelm you. It’s our business to know the small print, and we pride ourselves in taking care of it for you.

Contact us to get your project done right.