Captioning and Subtitling Services

Although much attention is being paid to new Federal Communications Commission regulations concerning the closed captioning of Internet video, it is also important to understand the legislation that first mandated the captioning of television video, the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  The provisions of Section 713 of the Act are intended to “ensure that video programming is closed captioned and accessible to persons with hearing disabilities.” (FCC Report and Order, August 22, 1997)  That accessibility goal notwithstanding, the Commission did provide exemptions to the captioning requirement. 

Some exemptions are self-implementing, meaning that a programming provider does not need to seek Commission approval through petition.  Programming that is exempt from captioning requirements includes, but is not limited to, that which is in a language other than English or Spanish, that which consists mainly of non-vocal music, and that which is shown between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. local time.

There are also two exemptions based on the annual revenue of the programming provider.  FCC rules exempt all programming providers with annual gross revenues of less than $3 million per year from the captioning requirement. This is based on the conclusion that it would be economically burdensome for these providers to offer captioning. If their revenues exceed $3 million per year, programming providers are permitted to limit their spending on captioning to 2% of their annual gross revenues.

If the programming provider does not meet any of the standards of self-implementing exemption, the provider may petition the FCC on grounds that closed captioning is economically burdensome.  The factors that will be considered upon examination of the petition include the nature and cost of the closed captions for the programming, the impact on the operation of the provider or program owner, the financial resources of the provider or program owner, and the type of operations of the provider or program owner.

For a full list of television programming exemptions, please go to http://transition.fcc.gov/cib/dro/ccfactsh.html.

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