Captioning Live Programs

One of the most troublesome closed captioning rules is the rule for live programming. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided that live programming (or repeats of live programming) that uses the “electronic news room” technique to produce closed captions are considered captioned. “Electronic news room” captions are created from a script that is usually displayed on a teleprompter. This technique is commonly used for live news programs. Only material that is scripted can be displayed as captions using this technique. The “electronic news room” technique does not provide closed captions for spontaneous or unscripted comments, live reports delivered from another location, or breaking news.

There are exceptions to this live programming rule. Major national broadcast television networks (such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) cannot count “electronic news room” captions towards compliance with the closed captioning rules. Also, some national non-broadcast networks (networks that distribute video programming through cable, satellite or other television service providers) cannot count “electronic news room” captions towards compliance with the closed captioning rules. In other words, these major national networks must provide real-time captions for their live programming.

In addition, affiliates of major national broadcast television networks located in the top 25 television markets, as defined by Nielsen’s Designated Market Areas (DMAs), must provide real-time captions for their live programming.

These video programming distributors that are not permitted to count captions created using the “electronic news room” technique are now required to close caption all breaking news and emergency alerts. In 2006, the FCC issued a Public Notice, “Obligation of Video Programming Distributors to Make Emergency Information Accessible to Persons with Hearing Disabilities Using Closed Captioning.”  In this Public Notice, the FCC provides some examples of the actions video programming distributors may take to help obtain closed captioning resources quickly. The FCC also noted that when a distributor is unable to caption emergency information quickly, the amount of missing captions may be relatively small and reasonable under the circumstances. However, to be reasonable, the distributor must make its best efforts to provide closed captioning as soon as possible. Even so, the FCC emphasized that, when closed captioning is not provided, all distributors must make emergency information accessible by some other visual presentation method, in a manner that ensures the same access to emergency information for persons with hearing disabilities as for any other viewer.

For more information about closed captioning emergency information, see Access to Televised Emergency Information.

Live local news programs outside the top 25 DMAs (above) can use the “electronic news room” technique to close caption their programs. As a result, deaf and hard of hearing viewers in areas outside the top 25 DMAs do not have access to spontaneous or unscripted comments of their in-studio news anchors, news stories delivered by reporters outside the studio, or breaking news stories. As such, the NAD advocates for television stations to become leaders in their communities by providing real-time captioning for their local news programs.