US regulator introduces new caption quality rules

Monday, 24 February 2014 10:00am

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the USA voted unanimously on 20 February to approve new, comprehensive rules to ensure that closed captioning on TV is of the highest possible quality.

The new rules follow years of lobbying by Deaf and hearing impaired TV viewers and their advocates, including a July 2004 petition filed by several groups including Telecommunications for the Deaf “to establish additional enforcement mechanisms to better implement the captioning rules, and to establish captioning quality standards to ensure high quality and reliable closed captioning”. The petition resulted in 1,600 submissions to the FCC.

The FCC’s new rules will require that captions be:

  • Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible.
  • Synchronous: Captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible and must be displayed on the screen at a speed that can be read by viewers.
  • Complete: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
  • Properly placed: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another, or run off the edge of the video screen.

Captions for pre-recorded programs will be expected to comply fully with the above rules, but the FCC recognises that they will be more difficult to achieve on live and near-live programs.

The FCC’s order also includes best practice guidelines for video programmers and caption suppliers. These include video programmers providing caption suppliers with advance scripts, proper names and song lyrics for live programs. Caption suppliers will need to ensure proper training and supervision of their captioners, and that their systems are functional to prevent interruptions to the caption service.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told B&C, “Today’s item on Closed Captioning offers a great example of why what we do at the FCC matters – how our work has a meaningful impact on the lives of the American people.”

These new rules are similar to those recently put in place in Australia through the Australian Media Communications Authority’s Television Caption Quality Standard.

Media Access Australia will soon be releasing a white paper, Caption quality: International approaches to standards and measurement. This will look at caption standards in place around the world, particularly with regard to live captioning, and suggest ways in which quality can be improved.


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