Online Live and Near-Live Captioning Deadline is July 1

DENVER—The demand for captioning on video clips, TV programs, and live broadcasts in the United States has never been higher:

— More than 50 million Americans* report some form of hearing loss.
One in three individuals over the age of 65 —an increasingly large segment of the American population—suffer from hearing loss.
— The prevalence of bar and gym televisions, mobile phones and social media feeds have increased the need for video captions as a convenience and the only way to reach those who prefer video without sound.

This summer, the third and final “clips captioning” benchmark hits, adding another requirement to the lives of broadcasters, programmers and content creators alike.

Effective July 1, 2017, clips of all live or near-live programming captioned on TV must be captioned when delivered via Internet Protocol.

Live programming is content—concerts, sporting events and news conferences—being broadcast at the same time as it occurs. This also includes show highlights by sports programmers that appear immediately after the conclusion of the live broadcast. If it’s broadcast live, it’s live.

Near-live programming is content that is broadcast less than 24 hours after recording. The most popular examples of this type of programming are late-night talk shows, which are typically recorded six to 12 hours before broadcast.

This isn’t the first time the FCC has mandated captioning. Almost all television programs are already required to have closed captions, and the FCC has made significant headway into ensuring those captions are carried over to the internet.

Thanks to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, all full-length captioned broadcast television programs delivered via IP, which includes streaming services such as Amazon, Apple and Hulu, must carry those captions online as well. This was followed by the FCC introducing similar requirements for clips of full-length programming. Here’s a run-down:

In 2012, the FCC began requiring all IP-delivered television programs to be captioned, regardless of whether they were full-length episodes or clips. These were phased in based on how the show was created—pre-recorded, live or near-live.

In 2014, the FCC added clips to programming that must be captioned when delivered via IP. This mandate came with some leeway—clipped programs only fell under the requirement if delivered through the programmer or content producers’ website or application, with third-party platforms such as Hulu, YouTube and iTunes exempted. However, many third-party platforms still comply voluntarily with the FCC mandate to reach as many people as possible and to give the deaf and hard-of-hearing access to their content.

The first clips mandate took effect in January 2016 and applied to direct lift clips of prerecorded content. Sometimes called a “straight lift,” direct lifts are single excerpts of captioned programs. Crucially, this rule only applied to clips belonging to one part of a program, with no other material.

In January of this year, montage clips were required to be delivered with captions. Composed of multiple direct lifts, montages are often created to serve as teasers for full programs.

The rules effective July 1of this year, however, are quite different due to the nature of the mediums.

The new FCC rules will allow clips of live and near-live videos to be distributed online without captions, so long as each video is captioned within the relevant mandated time frame.

Live programming must be captioned within 12 hours of recording and near-live within eight hours, unlike direct clips or montages, which must be captioned before distribution.

But these time frames are not for mere convenience. Captioning live and near-live programming is a different animal than prerecorded captioning. Prerecorded offline captions often have the benefit of clear transcripts, so their captions can be created in sync with the audio allowing for a smooth viewing experience. Live and near-live programs don’t have that luxury. The real-time nature of live recordings means there will always be a slight delay in the captioning. Often, the captions will correspond to words spoken earlier, rather than what is on the screen currently.

To remedy this, some programmers may attempt to clip the captions with video segments, but even this technique doesn’t completely fix the delay problem. Other live or near-live programmers may turn to automatic speech recognition (ASR) software to try to deal with the time and manpower demands of live captioning. However, ASR software has proven to be generally ineffective, sacrificing quality and accuracy for speed, which leaves those relying on captions for the full content experience suffering. Furthermore, the gap in quality caused by ASR software violates the FCC standards: Their rules state that IP captions must be of the same quality as television broadcasts.

As organizations grapple with this new mandate, their demand for highly skilled professional captioners and transcribers will most likely rise to meet it. After all, only humans can balance both the speed and accuracy needed to properly transcribe and sync captions to videos in compliance with the regulations.

Along with this rising call for human capital comes a demand for quality workflow automation technology to keep captioners on track, operating at the highest quality, and ensuring timely delivery and coordination between all parties.

Here are some ways to find the tools and talent to keep your broadcasts in compliance:

  • Hire a 24/7 live captioning service, which guarantees quality within a turnaround of six hours or less. Many of these services also offer API integrations with the programmer’s video distribution platform.
  • Utilize a secondary live-captioned feed during the broadcast for clipping and offsetting captions to match the video more accurately.
  • Deploy a software solution that enables broadcasters to resync the live-captioned text to match the video or clip segment.
  • Acquire captioning software and perform your own clip captioning.

On July 1, the final mandate for captioning video clips will go into effect, potentially adding stress to broadcasters’ already demanding profession. But nothing matches the stress of realizing you aren’t in FCC compliance until after the fact. Now is the time to prepare your staff and workflows to accommodate the live captioning mandate—and to ensure your content is accessible for everyone.

*Extrapolated from the 2011 Johns Hopkins study to current census.

Heather York is vice president of government affairs at VITAC, the largest provider of real-time and offline captioning products and services in the United States.