White Paper: Understanding the Current (and Future) Challenges of Captioning Online Sports Content

Lily Bond, 3Play Media, Marketing Manager, offers up an analysis of the current state of captioning requirements, how they will evolve over the next two years, and much more in the following white paper. 3Play Media provides closed captioning and subtitling services for media & entertainment. 

The FCC has worked hard to build upon their closed captioning rules for video programming, including live and pre-recorded sports broadcasts in English or Spanish. A flurry of updates and regulations recently took effect and many more are on their way. This brief will provide you with a compilation of all the FCC updates that affect producers and distributors of sports video content, as well as upcoming deadlines and resources for compliance.

It is important to note that as of now, any video in a distributor or provider’s library that previously appeared on TV with captions must be captioned within 30 days. On March 30th, 2016, videos must be captioned within 15 days of being placed online. The regulations described in this brief apply to all online sports programming that previously aired on television with captions, in accordance with the CVAA. We will also take you through the FCC’s exemptions for closed captioning.

New Quality Standards for Closed Captioning

CVAA timeline

On February 20, 2014, the FCC released a declaratory ruling regarding content quality for closed captioning of video programming. This was a much-needed clarification about quality standards across platforms. Although the FCC ruling applies specifically to television, the FCC states in their report that quality standards for television closed captioning are of increasing importance because they dictate the standard for online video, as well: the passage of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) requires that online video that previously aired on television have captioning “of at least the same quality as when such programs are shown on television.”

Thus, the FCC’s new content quality standards impact not just sports programs on television, but also rebroadcasts on the Internet.

So what are the new quality standards? Basically, the new rules address four aspects of quality: accuracy, synchronicity, program completeness, and placement. The FCC believes that these components are essential in ensuring accessibility. Let’s take a look at each of these more carefully.

Caption Accuracy
The FCC states: “In order to be accurate, captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue, in their original language (English or Spanish), to the fullest extent possible and include full lyrics when provided on the audio track.” More specifically, they require captions to include all words spoken in the order spoken (i.e., no paraphrasing). This also means that the captions must use proper spelling, spacing between words, capitalization, and punctuation.

Further, they differentiate that accurate captions must convey the tone of the speaker’s voice and intent of the content. The goal here is for captions to maintain the impact of the performance so that the overall message is not lost on the viewer. The FCC also includes that captions of nonverbal information (e.g., whistle blowing, crowd reactions, and speaker identification) must be provided if they are to be considered accurate.

Caption Synchronicity
The FCC states: “In order to be synchronous, captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible.” It also denotes that the captions must occur at a speed that can be read by viewers. And, if a sports program is edited for rebroadcast, it requires that captions be reformatted to provide accurate synchronization.

Program Completeness
Here, the FCC states: “In order for a program’s captions to be complete, captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program, to the fullest extent possible.” Many people have complained that captions drop off in the middle or before the end of programming, despite efforts on the part of the Commission to minimize this issue. Now, any program that does not include captions up to its conclusion will be in violation of these standards.

Caption Placement
SVG-sportsIn response to complaints that some captions obscure important information, the FCC states that “captions should not block other important visual content on the screen including, but not limited to, character faces, featured text (e.g., news updates, graphics, and credits), and other information that is essential to understanding a program’s content when the closed captioning feature is activated.”

For example, if you are watching a football game and there is text in the bottom of the screen that gives the score, down, and field position, closed captioning cannot be placed over this text, as it would obscure essential information.

The new guidelines go on to require that captions not run off the edge of the screen and that the text be sized appropriately for legibility.

How Accurate Is Accurate?
Most vendors that provide pre-recorded sports programming (when a program is produced in advance and then captioned before airing) propose caption accuracy rates that are almost perfect. At 3Play Media, our average measured accuracy is 99.6%, and we guarantee over 99%, even in cases of poor audio quality, multiple speakers, difficult content, and accents.

The FCC’s standards do allow some leniency for captioning live sports events: “Although we recognize the need for a slight delay in the delivery of captions for live programming, the delay in the presentation of live captions should be kept to a minimum, consistent with an accurate presentation of what is being said and the overall goal of ensuring that captions enable viewers to follow the program.”

It is important to note that even before these new standards, it was possible for live programming to be captioned at a high rate of accuracy. For instance, the US House of Representatives provides real-time verbatim closed-captioning of televised proceedings. Their requirements? The contractor should provide 98.6% accuracy of verbatim captioning.

The new FCC quality rules should compel live programming to be captioned universally at this high of an accuracy rate.

Implications for Online Sports Video
Because captions for sports programming must adhere to the FCC’s new guidelines, there will be an improvement in quality. And, because online video of previously aired sports content must have captions of at least the same quality, the quality of online captioning will improve, as well. More directly, if we are looking at pre-recorded programs distributed online, accuracy rates should be almost perfect.

The new guidelines leave little room for error, and will hopefully lead to a noted improvement in captioning quality across both video and online programming.

User Control for Online Video Closed Captions
The FCC set new user control requirements for online video closed captioning. Note that it applies only to online programming that previously appeared with captions on television in the United States. As of January 1, 2014, all online video programming distributors must comply with the advanced closed captioning standard CEA-708 and advanced interface settings.

What Does This New User Control Interface Look Like?
The new interface is a more effective way of viewing closed captioning.

With any application or plug-in to display video programming, users should have the ability to control font type, font size, font and background color, opacity, window color, and character edge style (drop shadow, raised, depressed). The ability to change these integral aspects of closed captions makes content more accessible, especially for users with partial vision impairment.

Online closed captioning options allow for users to define the look and feel of the caption information.

Online closed captioning options allow for users to define the look and feel of the caption information.

To see how it works in action, go to a YouTube video that has closed captions (here’s an example). When you press the CC button to turn on closed captions, click on Options. Then, play around with all the different possibilities!

Closed Captioning Requirements Extended to Online Sports Clips
On July 11, 2014, the FCC ruled that closed captioning requirements for IP delivered video content will extend to video clips. This means that any game highlights, clips, or replays from a TV sports broadcast need captions when shared online. This decision was postponed from the January 2012 ruling, which stated that all full-length online programming that previously aired on television with captions must have closed captions when it is put online. Their decision not to include video clips in this ruling was petitioned for reconsideration, and the FCC sought further comment on the issue. The FCC and the Media Bureau determined that the responses supported the inclusion of captioning requirements for video clips.

Deadlines for Closed Captioning of IP Delivered Video Clips
The Media Bureau stated, “A commission requirement for captioning IP delivered video clips will ensure that content will be accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Consistent with the CVAA, the commission’s IP rules will apply to video clips only if the associated video programming was shown on television with captions.”

This new requirement will have a series of three deadlines:

January 1, 2016: Single excerpt clips from captioned television programs must be captioned.
January 1, 2017: Montages or highlight reels from captioned television programs must be captioned.
July 1, 2017: Time sensitive video clips must be captioned, including live and near-live programming. Live programming will have a 12-hour grace period after the clip appears on television before the clip must be captioned if placed online; near-live programming will have an eight-hour grace period.

The ruling does not extend to video clips that are in distributors’ online video libraries before the applicable compliance deadline. It does, however, impose the same quality standards that apply to full-length programming.

Issues Being Considered
The ruling also notes four issues related to captioning IP delivered video clips, which may require further discussion:

IP closed captioning rules to the delivery of video clips by third party distributors.
Whether the grace periods for time sensitive video clips should be decreased or eliminated as technological advancements render the grace periods unnecessary.
Whether the requirements should be extended to mashups of multiple programs.
How these rules should be applied to video clips that appear online before appearing on television with captions.
Closed Captioning of Spanish Programming
While the FCC originally stated different deadlines for English and Spanish programming, at this point in time, the captioning requirements for both languages are identical. Captions were required for new English content in 2006, and for new Spanish content in 2010. The following were the FCC’s deadlines and rules for Spanish-language programming:
January 1, 2010: All new Spanish-language content must be captioned
January 1, 2012: 75% of pre-existing Spanish-language programming must be captioned

What this means is that today, 100% of new Spanish-language television programming must be captioned, and 75% of pre-rule Spanish programming must be captioned. Note that these requirements are for broadcast television: the rules of the CVAA dictate closed captioning requirements for IP-delivered videos.

Closed Captioning of Bilingual English/Spanish Programming
Now that the captioning requirements for programming in English and Spanish are identical, the FCC states that bilingual English/Spanish language is subject to the same captioning regulations as both solely English and solely Spanish content. This means that any new bilingual English/Spanish programming must be closed captioned, and 75% of pre-rule bilingual English/Spanish programming must be closed captioned in their respective languages.

Closed Captioning of Programming in Other Languages
In the same mandate that detailed closed captioning rules for bilingual English/Spanish content, the FCC also clarified closed captioning rules for other language programming. Programming in a language other than English or Spanish is exempt from closed captioning requirements, in accordance with their 13 self-implementing exemptions. The FCC also specified that non-English or –Spanish programs that may contain small amounts of audio in either language do not require captioning.

Exemptions for Closed Captioning Sports Video
With the CVAA and FCC imposing stricter guidelines, you might be wondering, who is exempt from the FCC’s captioning rules? There are basically two types of exemptions: self-implementing and economically burdensome.

Economically Burdensome Exemption: The Commission can be petitioned for an economically burdensome exemption from closed captioning rules if compliance with the rules would be economically burdensome. The petition must be supported by sufficient evidence. The guidelines for filing an FCC petition for an exemption from closed captioning require the petitioner to provide the details of the program they are requesting exemption from closed captioning for, including the cost of closed captioning and the impact of captioning their programming, as well as a detailed explanation of the petitioner’s financial resources (including proof of having sought programming distributer assistance and additional sponsorships).

Self-Implementing Exemption: To qualify for a self-implementing exemption, the provider does not need to file a petition; the provider must simply meet one or more of the FCC’s thirteen criteria:

Programming is subject to contractual captioning restrictions
Captioning requirement has been waived due to economically burdensome exemption
Programming is in a language other than English or Spanish
Programming is primarily textual
Programming is distributed between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. local time
Interstitials, promotional announcements, and PSAs that are 10 minutes or less in duration
EBS (Educational Broadband Service) programming
Locally produced and distributed non-news programming with no repeat value
Programming on new networks for the first four years
Primarily non-vocal musical programming
Captioning expense in excess of 2% of gross revenues
Channels producing revenues under $3,000,000
Locally produced educational programming

With all of the FCC updates, as well as the CVAA regulations, it is important to keep up to date with closed captioning requirements for the digital distribution of sports programming. The largest burden on most sports broadcasters will be the new FCC requirement to caption online video clips. While the first phase of this regulation will not come into effect until January, 2016, it is important to start preparing and developing a workflow that you can implement when the time comes. The FCC’s quality standards also require that broadcasters pay more attention to the accuracy and overall quality of closed captions. These updates are an attempt to make online sports content, as it becomes more and more prevalent, accessible to everyone. Developing high quality captioning processes and folding them into your workflow is key for FCC and CVAA compliance, and will help you more easily comply with any future regulations.

To learn more about 3Play Media click here.

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