Closed Captioning Requirements

Since the FCC began mandating closed captions more than 20 years ago, the amount of programming that is required to be broadcast with captions has increased dramatically. Currently, nearly all content aired on television must be captioned, with only two categories of exemptions from closed captioning regulations: self-implementation and undue economic burden. 

Self implementing exemptions include any programming shown from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., public service announcements shorter than 10 minutes and not produced with federal money, and programming that is primarily textual or in a language other than English or Spanish. This exemption also applies to any programming on networks that are less than four years old. 

There are procedures for petitioning the FCC for an exemption from the closed captioning rules when compliance would be economically burdensome. Exemptions may be granted, in whole or in part, for a channel of video programming, a category or type of video programming, an individual video service, a specific video program, or a video programming provider.

Factors the FCC considers in making a determination include the nature and cost of the closed captions, the impact on the operation of the provider or the program owner, and the financial resources and operation type of the provider or program owner. 


CVAA Compliance

The 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was created to ensure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s were updated for emerging digital and broadband technologies. Signed into law in 2010, implementation of the CVAA is now complete. 


Full-Length Programming

The CVAA requires that any television programming originally broadcast with captions must also be captioned when delivered via Internet Protocol (IP). 

This applies not only to the programmer's website but to any third-party sites where that content may appear, such as Netflix, YouTube, or other streaming platforms.

Content must be accessible across devices, including mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets. 


Beginning January 2016, all IP-delivered video clips taken from programming originally broadcast with closed captions must be captioned. This only applies to "straight-lift" clips, which contain a single excerpt of a captioned television program with video and audio presented as originally broadcast. 

As of July 1, 2017, live and near-live clips must be captioned. Straight-lift clips from content that was televised live with captions must have IP captions within 12 hours of being posted online. Similar clips from near-live content must have captions within 8 hours. 

Unlike full-length content, clips shown on third-party devices do not need to be captioned, captions are only required on the programmer's website.

Video Description

Title II of the CVAA focuses on video description being available and accessible to those who need to receive emergency information. This ruling requires video programming equipment, television recording devices, and interconnection mechanisms to be able to pass through video descriptions and emergency information that can be accessed by people who are blind or visually impaired. Title II also requires controls for TV's to be accessible to the blind or visually impaired and requires these devices to have a button, key, icon, or comparable mechanism designated for activating video description or closed captions.


Additional Resources:

Federal Communications Commission 

Century Video Accessibility Act