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IP video captioning rules raise issues for CDNs

New FCC rules requiring local television stations, broadcast networks and cable operators to provide programs streamed on the Internet with captions take effect March 30, but the way the rules get implemented — at least initially — may require greater bandwidth usage and more expense than ultimately will be required.

The new rules initially apply to full-length programs previously telecast with captions. When that programming appears via IP delivery, it must offer the captions. The rules, which the agency was directed to adopt b the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, also set up a two-year period to transition archived IP-delivered content originally broadcast with captions.

Other provisions of the rules include the requirements for video program owners to send caption files to program distributors, the quality of the captions and a mechanism for alleging violation of the rules.

One thorny area, according to Mike Galli, VP of marketing at ViewCast, which specializes in capture delivery technology, is a provision of the new rules that takes effect in 12 months requiring programming aired live or “near live” on TV to be available with captions when delivered via IP. “The focus in the non-traditional video space was on the on-demand side of the world,” says Galli. “Those techniques and mechanisms are in place and well supported. However, it seems that what’s happens is that live video is an afterthought.”

According to Galli, the best solution for both live and on-demand content in terms of bandwidth usage and expense is one that allows captions to be turned on or off by the viewer’s player. However, that approach requires a degree of the sophistication in the server that is not universally adopted by CDNs at this point.

The alternative, he notes, is to send two streams — one with and one without the required captions — and allow viewers to decide. “What people want, however, is how it’s handled in the home today — for the device to turn on or off the caption information,” he says.

According to Galli, on the whole, CDNs aren’t currently equipped to deal with CEA- 708, the closed-captioning standard for ATSC DTV. “Not one CDN has the right software to fully support embedded 708,” he says. “They will have to get their software up to support that level (of captioning functionality).”

Another troublesome area is new layers of sophistication CDNs have been adding to make it easier and less expensive to serve up streams to multiple players. “Packaging, repacking, transmuxing, the ability to take a Flash stream and reform in HLS, if CDNs didn’t do that, they wouldn’t have to worry about having the new capability (to handle captions),” says Galli. Without transmuxing, CDNs could simply pass through captions, he adds.

The requirement for captioning IP delivered video content opens a chapter for regulators. “In the TV world, it is a lot easier to regulate captioning,” he says, “because it’s possible to put this requirement on the TV and set-top box. You can regulate those people.

“In the world of PCs and mobile devices, that kind of regulation may prove to be a lot harder to do.”