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Internet Video Closed Captioning Rules Due in January

WASHINGTON: Internet video closed-captioning rules are due to be delivered in January. A report from the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee was delivered to the Federal Communications Commission this week, triggering a six-month deadline for new rules that require captioning of TV programming redistributed on the Internet.

“Given the goal of providing closed captioning for television programming delivered over the Internet, the fundamental performance objective is that regardless of how the captioned video is transmitted and decoded, the consumer must be given an experience that is equal to, if not better than, the experience provided as the content was originally aired on television...,” the report states.

Federal law requires the FCC to release advanced captioning rules within six months of receiving the VPAAC report, dated July 13. The report recommends that those rules be implemented at six-month intervals after they are published in the Federal Register. The first of these would fall next July, requiring that prerecorded programming not edited for the Internet be closed captioned.

The next deadline, falling in January 2012, would require captioning for live and near-live programming online. The third and final proposed deadline, falling in July of 2012, would require that all prerecorded programming “substantially edited” for the Internet be captioned.

The VPAAC report also recommends performance objectives, technical standards and regulations; e.g., nothing must be “lost” in the transcoding process, including spelling, positioning, timing and presentation. It points out that Internet media players must support closed-captioning and end-user display customization in terms of language, character color, opacity, size, edge, background and font. Exemptions may be granted for certain features, however. A gray-scale screen may be substituted for color choices, for example.

“User settings are new to players which support Internet-delivered video, and will require time and effort to implement,” the report states.

As for technical standards, the report allows the use of the single standard interchange format now used for digital television, for delivery to Internet video distributors. Those distributors can transcode for various playout options, such as proprietary or browser-based players, so long as the captioning characteristics are maintained. It also notes the need for developing specific formats for delivering closed-captioned content to the Internet, for delivery to users, and for compatibility with various devices.

Closed captioning was first introduced in the 1970s by WGBH-TV in Boston. The first show to be captioned was Julia Child’s PBS show “The French Chef.” Everyone could see the captions at the time, since no decoders were available. Congress mandated closed captioning for most television programming in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. President Obama extended closed captioning to Internet-distributed TV shows last October with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

~ Deborah D. McAdams