captioning of online video

In our summary of last week’s regulatory actions, I was struck by a common thread in comments made by several FCC Commissioners in different contexts – the thread being the FCC’s role in regulating Internet content companies.  As we noted in our summary, both Republican commissioners issued statements last week in response to a request by a public interest group that the FCC block Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.  The Commissioners stated that the FCC had no role to play in reviewing that acquisition.  Twitter does not appear to own regulated communications assets and thus the FCC would not be called upon to review any application for the acquisition of that company.  The Commissioners also noted concerns with the First Amendment implications of trying to block the acquisition because of Musk’s hands-off position on the regulation of content on the platform, but the Commissioners’ principal concern was with FCC jurisdiction (Carr StatementSimington Comments).  In the same week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in remarks to a disability rights organization, talked about plans for more FCC forums on the accessibility of Internet content to follow up on the sessions that we wrote about here.

The ability of the FCC to regulate internet content and platforms depends on statutory authority.  In holding the forums on captioning of online video content, the FCC could look to the language of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which included language that asked the FCC to look at the accessibility of video content used on internet platforms.  In other areas, the FCC’s jurisdiction is not as clear, but calls arise regularly for the FCC to act to regulate content that, as we have written in other contexts, looks more and more like broadcast content and competes directly with that content.
Continue Reading Does the FCC Regulate Internet Content and Companies? 

On December 2, 2021, the FCC held a forum on the accessibility of video programming delivered through online platforms (a recording of the event is available on the FCC website, here).  What is perhaps most notable about this forum is that it looked at whether the FCC could extend its authority over online platforms to include accessibility obligations which, thus far, have only been implicated when a broadcaster already subject to FCC accessibility obligations repurposes its programs for Internet use (see, for instance, the FCC’s significant fine imposed in a consent decree when Pluto TV, which is owned by Viacom CBS, rebroadcast certain content that had already been broadcast on television with captions).  One of the questions identified in the Public Notice announcing the Forum is whether the FCC has the authority to expand accessibility obligations to online platforms.

The seeming importance of the session could be seen from the introductory remarks by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Senator Ed Markey.  Senator Markey was one of the proponents of the Twenty First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).  In his remarks, he discussed the importance of taking the reforms that have been adopted for television programming and extending them to the Internet, given that so much video programming and viewership is now migrating to those platforms.
Continue Reading FCC Forum on Accessibility of Online Video Programming – Looking Beyond the Regulation of Broadcasters 

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • ViacomCBS and its subsidiary Pluto TV agreed to pay $3.5 million and enter into a consent decree with the FCC

Under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (commonly called the CVAA), the FCC has adopted many rules designed to enhance accessibility to broadcast communications, particularly those provided by television broadcasters.  In a recent Public Notice, the FCC asked for comments as to how the implementation of the CVAA has

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.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs and Children’s Television Reports, Comment Dates on Main Studio Rule Elimination and Modernization of Media Regulation, Incentive Auction CP Filing Deadline, Effective Date for Captioning Clips of Live and Near-Live Programming, and Window for FM Translators for AM Stations

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. 
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Ownership and EEO Reports, Retransmission Consent and Foreign Ownership Rulemaking Comments, Incentive Auction and Accessibility Obligations

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.
Continue Reading New Accessibility Compliance Deadlines for TV Stations Coming Very Soon

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. 
Continue Reading November Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – The End of the Political Window, Incentive Auction and Online Video Clip Comments and More

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.
Continue Reading Comment Dates Set for Rulemaking on the Required Captioning of Online Video Clips – What is Being Considered?