captioning of online video

July is a big month on the Washington regulatory scene for broadcasters. There are, of course, the routine quarterly regulatory obligations. For all stations, commercial and noncommercial, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, summarizing the most important issues facing a broadcaster’s community, and the programs that were broadcast in the prior quarter to address those issues, must be in a station’s public file (the online public file for all TV stations and for radio stations that have already converted to the online file) by July 10. These are the only required records documenting a station’s service to its community, so do not forget to complete these reports and to timely place them in your public file.

Children’s Television Reports documenting the educational and informational programing broadcast by TV stations to meet their obligation to program at least three hours a week of such programming for each program stream are due to be filed at the FCC by July 10. Also, TV stations must place into their public file documentation showing that they have met the advertising limits imposed on commercials during children’s programming.
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Tomorrow afternoon eastern time, I will be conducting a webinar for at least 20 state broadcast associations on legal issues for broadcasters in their social and digital media efforts.  We’ll talk about many of the potential legal landmines that can be hidden in these new media efforts, many of which we have written about

December is one of those months when all commercial broadcasters have at least one FCC deadline, and there are also many other filing dates of which many broadcasters need to take note.  For all commercial broadcasters, Biennial Ownership Reports are due on December 2.  Hopefully, most broadcasters have already completed this filing obligation, as FCC electronic filing systems have been known to slow as a major deadline like this comes closer.  See our article here for more on the Biennial Ownership filing requirement that applies to all commercial broadcast stations.

Noncommercial stations are not yet subject to the uniform Biennial Ownership Report deadline (though the FCC has proposed that happen in the future, see our article here, a proceeding in which a decision could come soon).  But many noncommercial stations do have ownership report deadlines on December 1, as noncommercial reports continue to be due every two years, on even anniversaries of the filing of their license renewal applications.  Noncommercial Television Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports by that date.  Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont also have the same deadline for their Biennial Ownership Reports. 
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TV stations have in the past few years been hit with many requirements for making their programming – especially emergency information – accessible to all people within their service areas. Two deadlines loom in the very short term that stations need to remember – the requirements for converting text based emergency information aired on their stations outside of news and EAS alerts (usually crawls dealing with issues such as severe weather alerts) into speech for airing on their SAP channels, and the requirement that any clips transmitted through IP technology (e.g. to computers or through apps) must contain captions if those clips were taken from programming that was broadcast with captions.

Some trade press reports have indicated that some TV stations are still having issues with the requirement that stations take emergency information broadcast outside of news programming and not in EAS alerts, and convert that information to speech to be broadcast on the station’s SAP channel (in some cases requiring that the station activate a SAP channel if they did not already have one).  This rule is meant to cover information like weather alerts typically carried in crawls during entertainment programs.  The rule was supposed to take effect in May, but was extended until November 30 when it appeared that most TV stations were not ready to meet the original deadline.  We wrote about the requirements and the extension here and here. The extension also put on hold obligations to include school closing alerts on the SAP channel when it became clear that the time necessary to broadcast those alert on the SAP channel (and to do it twice, as required by the rules for the audio alerts on the SAP channels) would likely overwhelm the ability to carry any other information.  The extension order also extended until November 2016 the obligation to aurally describe on the SAP channel any non-textual, graphical information conveyed by the station outside of news programs (e.g. weather radar images).  But the general obligation to convert text to speech still goes into effect at the end of next month – so stations need to be ready.
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The month of November is one of those rare months on the FCC calendar when there are few routine regulatory filing deadlines for broadcasters.  In odd years, we would have Biennial Ownership Reports but, being an even year, we can wait until 2015 for that obligation for commercial broadcasters.  There is a new November 28 deadline, about which we wrote here, for TV stations with Joint Sales Agreements with other stations in their markets to file such agreements with the FCC.  While we are getting to the end of the current license renewal cycle, there are still some obligations of television stations for the airing of renewal pre or post filing announcements.  Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan need to air License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements on the first and sixteenth of the month, while television stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont need to air their pre-filing announcements in anticipation of the filing of their license renewal applications on December 1. 

November brings a few other dates of note for broadcasters.  With the end of the political window for lowest unit rates on Election Day, broadcasters have a few last minute issues to remember.  If they sell ads on Election Day, those ads must be sold at lowest unit rates.  If they have opened their stations to take new advertising or changes in copy for any commercial client in the past year, they must be ready to take similar steps for federal candidates over this last weekend before the election.  Even if they never accommodate a commercial advertiser over the weekend, they may still need to provide weekend access to accommodate last minute equal opportunities requests. 
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The Commission has set the date for comments on it Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on certain aspects of the captioning of Online Video clips.  We recently summarized the FCC action setting up compliance deadlines for the captioning of video clips taken from programs that are shown on TV with captions, and then repurposed for online use.  While the Commission has already established the obligations for TV broadcasters to take these clips and caption them when shown online on the broadcaster’s own website or through its own app, there are still certain areas to which the rules have not yet been extended on which comments are sought. The Comment deadline is October 6, with replies due November 3 (see the full text of the FCC decision here, and the Federal Register publication of the comment dates here).  What is being considered?

Basically, questions are asked about three areas. The first is whether to require that clips be captioned when they are shown on third-party websites.  The current rules require that full programs shown on TV and repurposed to the Internet be captioned when shown on third-party sites, but the new rules for clips were not immediately extended that far, as the Commission seeks comments on the costs and difficulties that might exist in such an extension.
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Time flies, and more regulatory requirements and comment deadlines in regulatory proceedings are upon us in the month of August.  The regular regulatory deadlines include license renewal for TV and LPTV stations in California, and EEO Public Inspection File yearly reports for stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.  Noncommercial TV stations in California and North and South Carolina all have ownership reports on Form 323E due on the August 1, and noncommercial radio stations in Wisconsin and Illinois have ownership report obligations too.  We can also expect that the deadline for submission of Annual Regulatory Fees will be set this month but, as we have not yet heard about that date, the deadline for the fees to be paid may not be until sometime in September.

In addition to the regular filings, there are numerous proceedings in which various government agencies will be receiving comments in proceedings that could impact broadcasters.  Next Wednesday, August 6, the FCC will be taking comments on it Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules. The issues to be considered include the TV ownership rules (including the question of how to deal with Shared Services Agreements) about which we wrote yesterday.  Also to be considered in the proceeding are questions about the radio ownership rules, and the cross-interest rules – including whether to change the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.  But the FCC is not the only one who will be receiving comments on issues that can affect broadcasters.
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The FCC on Friday voted to extend its rule about captioning TV video repurposed to the Internet so as to cover not only full television programs, but also clips of those programs.  While the rules already require that TV programming that is captioned when broadcast to be captioned when retransmitted in full over the Internet, the new rules, to be phased in as described below, require that clips of TV programs that were broadcast with captions also be captioned when repurposed for online use.  In addition to adopting the rules for phasing in this new requirement, the Commission also asked several questions in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking some technical questions about the rules that it already adopted, and also whether to expand the requirements to other services and to programming that mixes both programming excepted from TV and programming that is original to the Internet.   

While the full text of the FCC’s decision has not yet been released, from the discussion at the FCC meeting and from its Public Notice about the rules, the outlines of the newly imposed obligations seem fairly clear.  The rules adopted for video clips, and the timeline for the implementation of these rules, are as follows: 

  • January 1, 2016 – captioning for “straight lift” clips, which are defined as a single excerpt of a program that had been captioned when first shown on TV, with the same video and audio as had been broadcast.
  • January 1, 2017 – captioning for video montages – which are collections of clips from different broadcasts, where all had been captioned when broadcast.  
  • July 1, 2017 – captioning for clips of time-sensitive (i.e., live or near-live) programming.  There will be a “grace period” between TV airing and required online captioning of 12 hours for live programming and eight hours for near-live programming.  (The staff confirmed during the post-meeting press conference that once the grace period expires, the posted clip must be captioned; if an earlier, non-captioned version was posted, it must be replaced.)

The Commission discussed that there would be some potential for waivers of these rules for small market stations, but the details of the standards that would apply were not detailed.  Also, there are some limitations on the obligations for posting of video clips that do not apply to the captioning obligations for full-length programs.  Those limitations are discussed below. 
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July brings a number of new regulatory dates for broadcasters – including the effective dates of two new compliance obligations for small market TV stations, as well as numerous routine regulatory filing dates.  July 10 brings one deadline for all broadcast stations – it is the date by which your Quarterly Issues Programs lists, setting out the most important issues that faced your community in the last quarter and the programs that you broadcast to address those issues, need to be placed in the physical public inspection file of radio stations, and the online public file of TV broadcasters.

Full power TV and Class A TV stations by January 10 also need to have filed with the FCC their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Reports, addressing the educational and informational programming directed to children that they broadcast.  Also, by that same date, they need to upload to their online public files records showing compliance with the limits on commercials during programming directed to children.  And there are other new obligations for smaller TV stations that are effective this month.
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Closed captioning of video programming repurposed to the Internet has been an obligation of television stations for over a year.  Thus far, most stations have been able to comply with the requirements – as those requirements have only applied to full programs that were captioned when broadcast over the air, and then carried over to the Internet, either in whole or in segments that comprise essentially all of the program.  Now, the FCC is asking if any program excerpt should be captioned when transmitted over the Internet.  In a Public Notice released this week, the FCC asked whether the obligation to caption television programming transmitted through IP technologies should be extended to clips of such programming as well.

In asking for comments, the FCC noted that, when Congress adopted the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which gave the FCC authority to mandate Internet captioning of TV programs, Congress required only the captioning of full programs, but it said that the limitation to full programs was intended only “at this time,” suggesting that the FCC could extend the requirements to clips at some point in the future.  Thus, the Commission is asking if this is the time to look at an extension of the obligations.  In undertaking this examination, the FCC is posing numerous requests for information from interested parties.
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