Online Video Clips to be Captioned

Ever since the introduction of HDMI cables and broadcasting programmings online instead of the traditional television, new technological and accountability challenges for accessibility have surfaced.


The traditional method of watching any sort of programming was through a coaxial cable, FCC had this covered by forcing manufacturers to include a "line" dedicated to captioning data within the coaxial cable, this was called Line 21. It enabled television sets to decode the captioning information and display accordingly. This method also enabled secondary languages to be displayed at the programmers' discretion.

With the advent of digital standards, HDMI does not operate with the same technology behind coaxial cables. This throws the idea behind Line 21 out of the window, and renders the television's capability to decode signals useless. It is now up to the set top box manufacturers to include decoders and display captioning data along with video and audio signals directly from the set top box rather than the television decode and display the caption data. Currently, broadcasters include such options in their set top boxes to ensure compatibility with FCC, although it is not as effortless on the front end as it was for the traditional viewer simply by turning on the captions on the television, directly.

The governing body in regards to communications and ensuring equal communication access, Federal Communications Commission also known as FCC, have updated its rulings to address such digital advances, and continues to evolve. The agency's ruling in 2012 addressed full length video clips shown by broadcasters and distributors in depth. In short, FCC had required that full length videos previously shown on television also be captioned when shown online on the broadcasters' websites and mobile apps. Today, FCC released an announcement addressing online video clips.



As of Friday, FCC has moved to extend their previous ruling to cover short video clips. They are now requiring broadcasters and distributors to include captions of video clips that were part of a programming already aired on television with the force of law. FCC has this to say in their statement in ensuring compliance by distributors.
Compliance deadlines vary based on the type of video clip.  Specifically, a deadline of:
  • January 1, 2016, will apply to “straight lift” clips, which contain a single excerpt of a captioned television program with the same video and audio that was presented on television;
  • January 1, 2017, will apply to “montages,” which occur when a single file contains multiple straight lift clips; and
July 1, 2017, will apply to video clips of live and near-live television programming, such as news or sporting events.  Distributors will have a grace period of 12 hours after the associated live video programming was shown on television and eight hours after the associated near-live video programming was shown on television before the clip must be captioned online in order to give distributors flexibility to post time-sensitive clips online without delay.

Keep in mind that this ruling, while it brings accessibility closer to modern levels by television broadcasters, will not cover clips that are already posted online before the deadlines set forth above. FCC has yet to address third party distributor applications such as Netflix, Hulu and so on. Such third party programs have issues with captions due to the fact that original broadcasters do not transfer captioning data along with the video itself. This creates a burden on the third party distributors to re caption the videos themselves. One particular platform, YouTube by Google, has created an automated system of captioning video clips; thus eliminating the need of manual input. This feature is optional and is not perfect and up to the owner of the video to utilize the feature when publishing. If the third party distributor chooses to caption programs for viewing, it creates an unnecessary redundant system when it comes to captioning videos that were already captioned originally by their respective broadcasters.

However, FCC has in this statement asked for input to address concerns with third party distributors, length of compliance based on technological challenges, and to address those video clips that were already posted online before the required compliance deadlines. The FCC statement, and associated individual statements from Wheeler, Clyburn, Rosenworcel, and Pai can be found by clicking here.

Written by Brandon Withem