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As New FCC Captioning Regulations Take Effect, Netflix, Amazon Are Finally Getting Serious

By: Art Morgan
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The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (known as “CVAA”) was signed into law by President Obama over five years ago, but the first set of FCC captioning regulations based on the law did not take effect until recently. The original bill had strong bipartisan support: it passed unanimously in the Senate and passed by voice vote in the House. However, it took the FCC a year and a half to publish specific rules, partly due to strenuous lobbying against the measures by groups representing television broadcasters and electronics manufacturers. The FCC published its final rule in March 2012, and since September 30, 2012, any full-length programming (except for live or “near-live” content) that appears on television with closed captioning must also have captions when it is redistributed on the web or via other IP-delivery mechanisms.

The locus of power for video accessibility issues appears to be shifting away from broadcasters and equipment manufacturers, and toward consumer groups such as the National Association for the Deaf (NAD), the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). Netflix recently settled a lawsuit filed by NAD in 2010, agreeing to provide closed captions for all of its content by 2014. Amazon quietly began providing closed captions for its streaming videos as well. YouTube recently began asking video content providers to either upload captions or certify that the content has not been broadcast on television, a process that is required as part of the new FCC closed captioning regulations. The truth is, even without the consumer advocacy group lawsuits, the writing was already on the wall for streaming content providers like Netflix and Amazon. With more and more of their content being broadcast on television, they are required under CVAA to provide captions for a large segment of their content. Now that they have put the infrastructure in place to provide captions and subtitles, it is relatively easy for them require that all content that they receive from their distributors includes captions in the correct format.

If you don’t produce video for television, and you’re not deaf or hard of hearing, what does all of this mean for you? The bottom line is, if you produce video content and you distribute it to consumers, students, taxpayers, or any other group of people that might include individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, you need to adapt your workflows to include closed captions with your videos. It may sound onerous, but it’s not as hard or expensive as you might think, and it’s just good business. Not only will you reduce your liability exposure, you will improve your image as an inclusive, trustworthy provider of video content, and you will increase the number of happy customers.

Automatic Sync will soon release a new whitepaper that outlines the implications of recent legislation such as CVAA, along with implementation best practices for providing closed captions. If you are not already subscribed to our newsletter, fill out the newsletter signup form on the right sidebar. We will let you know when the whitepaper is available for download.