Except from CC Webinar seen HERE
There’s a new law that came out, and it was issued by the FCC and we are getting a lot of questions from our customers; network stations, cable, satellite, IPTV operators. We decided to do a quick informational about that law, help you understand what it is, and how it could affect your organization.
I’m going to go over a little bit of the history of Closed Caption Regulations, when did it start? When you think about this CC quality, it’s really an outcome of what was really started way back in 1976 and we’ll look at some of the steps along the way. Why Closed Captioning Quality Regulations now? Why not 5 years ago, 10 years ago? I’ll go over that, and then specifically, get into the February 2014 Report and Order.
Actual rules were amended in March but the FCC put out the Closed Caption in quality order and it is composed of a few main pieces. The Report and Order, discusses the rules that are going to effect in February of 2015. It’s got some declaratory rulings, the rules that are actually going to effect immediately, and some notices of proposed rulemaking. It’s an area where they’re really looking for comments and about how to further the law and make it more practical, and then finally it discusses the rules themselves, the updates, and the FCC Regulations.
In 1976, the FCC and some technology members got together and established the Analog Closed Captioning Standard Online 21 of the Vertical Blanking Interval or VBI, this is now referred to as 608 Captioning. It us relatively simple by today’s standards, but it allowed certain bit rate of metadata to be carried inside the video, framed accurately and was allowed for analog presentation of Closed Captioning. TV’s greater than 13 inches had to have a 608 Decoder built into it so you couldn’t manufacture a set that couldn’t decode captions but at this point. There really was no regulation or even anything other than voluntary compliance – that the network and programmers had to actually caption their content. That started to change in about 1997. The FCC laid out some percentages depending on market size, how much of your content needed to be captioned and obviously the larger markets have greater quantity. In 2000, the ATSC Closed Caption Standards were developed, 708, and then in 2004, some groups petitioned the FCC for what amount to be a Closed Captioning quality mandate that stated that the Close Captioning is supposed to be there, but if it’s not correct, it actually doesn’t fulfill its purpose. An effort was started in 2004 and now, in February of 2015, the Closed Captioning Quality Act should became law, so the effort have started in 2004 and has been in a kind of a proposed rulemaking, modification phase for 10 years is now happening. This is sort of finishing the job that was actually started almost 40 years ago.
So, why now? Certainly there’s some economic pressures on stations and this is pushing down into the captioning services. Making the captioning providers lower their prices and to a certain extent, the Closed Captioning Quality, has degraded the quality, and as a result of that competitive pressure, something has to give. Closed Captioning isn’t just for the heart of hearing and in a lot of ways, many people use it as form of audio correction. If something was said, but it wasn’t really loud and you didn’t understand it, you can look on the screen and see what was actually said, so it’s turned out to be a tool not just for the deaf or harder hearing but for everyone and usually in homes or even out in large venues, we consume the video with no audio. With multiple users in multiple scenarios, everyone is now caring about the Closed Captioning Quality.
What happened in February of this year? It’s called the Closed Captioning Quality Order, a.k.a. FCC 14-12, if you look at the PDF, it’s 14-12A1 and it’s got a nice long name. We’re going to call it FCC 14-12 or Closed Captioning Quality Order from the rest of this blog post, and it really has four main sections. It has a Report and Order Section and that’s really the rules that are coming, it’s got a Declaratory Ruling which are basically rules that are immediately effective for clarifications or rules, it’s got a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking, and then the Final Rules, and this is what was actually added in March, the actual updates to the law, the stuff that the lawyers are actually going to read and work off. So it’s those four sections that are important. It’s a big document and there’s some important information in there that is going to be immediately effective, certainly some stuff that’s going to be effective in February of next year, and then a large area that’s really still up for study and probably going to be clarified by the FCC hopefully soon.
So what’s in that Report and Order Section of FCC 14-12? They established four non-technical standards, so these are not objective measurements – and the first is Accuracy. What this basically gets down to is that the Closed Captioning, unlike Teletext, needs to reflect dialogues, sounds, music, and speakers. Identifying… It’s really for those that actually can’t hear, so they provide extra context if you can’t hear the audio track at all. Synchronicity, captions that are in time, (we’ll talk a little bit about live and non-live captions and what allocation later), what the leniencies are here, that are able to be read in time with the content and the need to be able to read at a reasonable speed. Completeness, that the captions are there for the complete duration of the program and that they’re placed in a location, does not include faces, key graphics or key on-screen text. So if you have a news program and you’ve got a banner across the bottom, that wouldn’t be the place, you’d place the captions. When we get into discussions in the FNPRM, there’s a lot of energy around how much did the new Caption Standard allow organizations to locate cc or change the font or opacity, how much flexibility is given, and how much leniency does it give you in complying to this sort of place and requirement. For these are non-technical standards, there’s actually no objective measurement defined in the document and that’s actually something that’s in the FNPRM.
So these are the first four technical standards and then the question is where are they applied? There’s slightly different standards for different programming. To get the full adherence to the law, there is no leniency allowed on pre-recorded, more than 24 hours in advance. Anything that’s live or near live, is going to be given more leniency on timing and quality. They didn’t really defined what more is, but the idea obviously is that if you’re live captioning something, that you wouldn’t be driven to the same alignment of time, as if something were actually pre-recorded and you could do the captioning offline. There’s a special technique used by news organizations, specifically those in smaller markets, where you get to call Electronic Newsroom Technique, where you can turn news scripts into the closed captioning feed directly, so there is no need for live captioning services. The challenge was that that it frequently resulted in poor quality during live events, interviews, weather, or any breaking news, anything that wasn’t actually specifically scripted, so the FCC said that, this is an exception to the rest of the reporting order. There are more restrictions on the use of ENT as of July of this year, so if you are using ENT, look at the law, there’s some specific sections, exemptions you can still have but for the most part, it restricted the use of ENT to help improve the quality during live events, and the quality of the caption services during live events.
Inside the Report and Order, the FCC is holding the program distributor’s accountable, so anybody delivering television, broadcast TV stations, cable, satellite, IPTV, they’re not directly holding the networks, so the video programmer is responsible. This is very similar to Loudness. The VPDs are also required to monitor and keep records, so they have to monitor that their equipment is actually working, periodically and keep records of that, and execute corrective action, as they notice deficiencies. There’s a lot of detail, I’ll talk about it a little bit later, but with monitoring, there’s some very specific practices in the document about what’s acceptable monitoring and I would suggest that if you’re responsible for that area that your lawyers or your engineers look at that section and make sure that you are complying to those monitoring best practices.
There are some exceptions in the Report and Order, and basically, if a channel is less than 3 Million dollars in revenue, then it’s exempt from most of the rules. If a station has a Dot 1 and Dot 2 – this isn’t over the air station, then the FCC calls that a multicast. There is not IP Multicast, this is that you’re putting out more than one program which is pretty much every TV station and in that case, the revenue is actually per channel. If you have a Dot 1 and it has 10 Million Dollars in revenue, you have to follow the rules on that channel, but if you have Dot 2 and it’s 2 Million dollars, then that channel would be exempt from the rules and you would have to provide that meet those standards that you have for the Dot 1.
The document gets into some of the potential violations and what the cost might be and they did establish a fine of up to $8,000 per hour of programming – that is for a flagrant violation. I don’t know exactly what constitutes a flagrant violation but I’m pretty sure that if you want to avoid it, if you don’t’ ever want to be called flagrant, the best is to follow the best practices their document outlines. It’s rather large document, a 132 pages, but it has a section in paragraph 51, page 31 for best practices and right here. That’s a very important section, so it’s a large section, it’s about 16 pages but it goes into things that the TV stations or the programming distributors need to do in order to be in compliance. There’s a lot of monitoring recommendations, checking and record keeping, and it’s specific for program distributors, for stations and for the sort of MVPD side. Pretty much anyone in here, so those back practices will be given time to correct. If there’s any violation before any enforcement starts, the idea is if you’re following those practices and you have a violation, you don’t start that $8,000 an hour. You just have to monitor and do some spot checking, improve your practices and then you avoid the flagrant violation category.
The second section… There’s actually four section of that document. The first was the Report and Order. The second is the Declaratory Ruling and this is an area where they’ve actually clarified some rules then made some rules that are effective immediately. The approach is your content, if mixed, and there’s some specific rules about it. It’s mostly Spanish and there’s a little bit of English, you have to catch in the English, but it does specific talk about that. It is specific about on-demand programming, not being exempt. I’m still trying to understand if content was never broadcast and that’s available on-demand, how does that qualify in the new IP world, so we have questions about some pieces of it, and then it also gets into the fact that there’s no low power TV exemption. There’s still a less than 3 Million dollar revenue exemption but if you’re a low power TV station and you’re broadcasting in New York City, you could easily be more than 3 Million dollars of revenue.
The third section is the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. These are areas of study. There are the things that the FCC has looked at, knows need to be further clarified, but they haven’t decided to put them into actual law yet. First question is should the video programmers be held accountable? They are ultimately the people that lived with the content but there might be some level of responsibility that needs to be pushed more directly back to the video programmers, so this is an area for study. More objective rules rather than just these subjective quality, timeliness, completeness and no occluding things. Maybe defining actual objective quantity that measures for compliance, so you know, 98.7 or 99.8% of the words are actually captioned properly. That might be a quantitative measure. Repositioning a broadcast, re-captioning and rebroadcasting content, so it is the same as the content was produced live with some allowances for accuracy or timeliness, might involve additional rules saying, “Hey, you need to clean up the caption and can’t just rebroadcast if you open up live.” There’s a challenge and this is kind of related to the void, what about non-broadcast content? An IPTV delivery? Should that be subjected to the same rules? There are questions about specific checks, to monitor and ensure compliance. What should there be certain time periods setup? Certain checklist? Reporting of those checklists? Should ads be allowed to not have captions, so there’s been a little broad exemption for ads not having to have captions, should that be continued? As I noted this one earlier, the Closed Captioning font, color, size, opacity, how was that contributing to the efforts to maintain compliance? Do they give additional leniency too? 3D and Ultra HD – where do you put the captions in 3D? Are they in three dimensional or what depth are they? They can’t just be the same on the screen because of it will mess up the 3D effect and Ultra HD, how big are they? If you’re consuming Ultra HD, the size and positions might be different compared to regular HD or SD contents certainly. If your organization is active in this area, you probably know this already but the comment period has been extended and is available for additional comments until August 8th. What does that mean? It means the FCC is not done with this yet, so they’re still taking comments from the public. Once they finished that process, then they’ll likely come back with more clarifications.
The last section of the document is the FNPRM, it’s the Final Rule and this is page 100 to 108. It’s for the lawyers. It’s the actual amendment to the FCC rules, Part 79, Title 47. In the sense, it’s the only things that really matter. Becasue this is a legal document, it’s mostly for your lawyers and it’s probably worth knowing that whatever you see there is going to change as a result of the FNPRM.
So, in the summary, the goal is clear. Closed Captioning Quality really matters. It started in 1976 and the FCC’s goal here is to finish the job that started back then. Some rules are in effect now. The Electronic News Gathering Techniques, some are coming in February and many more are still to be written. If you deliver TV, you’re responsible for it. Exact methods for determining the compliance are still to be determined. Certainly, it includes monitoring and periodic checks and keeping a record of those, but the FNPRM’s are likely to come up with additional modifications and stuff necessity as to what means, what you can do to ensure compliance and this is really an informational webinar. We’re obviously the key players in the compliance realm. It’s on our DNA, that’s how the company was started and really our goal here is to help our customers achieve compliance and quickly improve compliance so that they can spend their time delivering content instead of worrying about FCC Rules.
Disclaimer - we’re not lawyers; and we don’t claim that this is legal advice, but wanted to make sure everyone knew that when it comes to time to actually know what you need to do