ALEXANDRIA, VA.—With the newest of FCC closed captioning rules requiring online video to be captioned now fully in effect, now is a good time to remind those who operate PEG channels on what type of programming must be captioned and what can be exempt.
For starters, closed captioning rules for PEG stations fall under the same general closed captioning rules for all television stations, with one exception, according to Carol Studenmund, owner and president of LNS Captioning, a Portland, Oregon-based closed captioning company.
“What’s left out in the conversation is the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she said.
The rules start to get tricky for PEG operators because they are obligated to adhere to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. For PEG operators whose budgets are tied into their local governments’ overall budget–PEGs are considered a “Title II” entity which is defined as a state or local government body under the ADA–such channels are required to provide services to accommodate persons with disabilities, regardless of the FCC exemptions your station qualifies for.
“Entities that qualify for an exemption under Section 713 may be obligated under other federal statutes, such as the ADA, to make their services and programs, including video programming services, accessible to an individual with disability upon request,” according to the FCC.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Rehabilitation Act, the federal law was passed in 1973 prohibiting programs run by, assisted financially by, and contracted by federal agencies from discriminating on the basis of a person’s disability. Section 508, an amended provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 passed in 1998, requires that disabled members of the public be allowed access to public information that is comparable to access available to the non-disabled persons.
“It goes hand in hand with the ADA regarding access to digital content generated by anyone connected to the federal government,” said Studenmund.
For non-profit PEG stations whose budgets aren’t tied to a federal, state, or local government entity, closed captioning rules fall under the general rules for all non-PEG television stations and are split into two categories: television and internet.
Television Captioning Rules
For television, the FCC dictates that all “new, non-exempt” programming must be captioned and 75 percent of all “pre-rule” programming must be captioned. “Pre-rule” programming constitutes all analog-based programming published before January 1st, 1998 and all digital programs published before July 1, 2002.
If a specific program falls under any of these thirteen FCC criteria’s then the program is exempt from needing closed captions. In special circumstances, stations can have their captioning duties waived by filing an online undue burden petition with the FCC.
Internet Captioning Rules
Internet rules vary if the program is a full-length show, video clip or archived program. According to FCC rules, full length programming for the internet, previously broadcast with captions, must have captions if “the program was prerecorded, not edited for the internet and aired after September 30th, 2012.” The same caption rule applies if the program was “prerecorded and substantially edited after and aired after September 30, 2013.” If the program aired “live or near live after March 30, 2013” then it must have captions as well.
Any archived PEG programs on the internet must be captioned “within 15 days after being televised with captions as of March 30 of 2016,” according to the FCC.
Portions of PEG programs must be captioned on the internet if the clip is a single excerpt of a program. As of January 1, 2017, clips that are montages must be captioned and starting July 1, 2017 “clips of live or near-live programming must also have captions,” according to the FCC.
Caption Quality Standards
FCC rules for caption quality are fairly straightforward. They must be accurate, meaning the caption must reflect the whole dialogue, other sounds, music and must identify speakers. The captions must sync with corresponding dialogue and sounds as much as possible and appear to viewers at reasonable times. The captions must run the whole length of the program and they are not to cover up important on-screen information such as, character faces, featured text and graphics. Captioning quality for the internet must be at least the same quality when it was originally aired.
What Tools Do PEG Channels Use?
Some PEG operators face a variety of production situations that may need captioning. Whether it’s a live broadcast of a city council meeting or a post edit of a community event, the chosen captioning tool affects a station’s production efficiency and capabilities.
For PEG channels serving a predominately bilingual community for example, Dalet Digital Media Systems has customized a closed captioning workflow for Canada’s Cable Public Affairs Channel. The Dalet workflow enables the network–which broadcasts Canada’s Parliament and Supreme Court meetings –to caption magazine-style shows, live productions and long-form programming–in two languages. Live CPAC content is transcribed by operators through live captioning methods and edited content is sent to an offsite captioning service. Both types of content are then sent back to CPAC where Dalet’s system deciphers and automatically converts the necessary caption data for playout to the web or general cable.
Digital Nirvana, a Fremont, Calif.-based provider of digital media management and intelligence solutions, offers a custom live and post production captioning service. The service provides pop-on and roll-up captioning for technology platforms in production situations for schools, hospitals, corporations, and government organizations. The service handles multiple SD and HD video formats as well as a wide range of caption file formats. Digital Nirvana also provides a team of experienced captioners for applicable situations.
In November 2015, the FCC held a roundtable discussion on closed captioning requirements for PEG channels. The video can be viewed here on Youtube.