Exemptions from the Closed Captioning Rule

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the closed captioning rules, it made some video programming exempt from the rules – categories of video programming that are not required to have closed captions. The categories of exempt video programming include, for example, promotional announcements, public service announcements (PSAs), and other breaks between programs that are less than 10 minutes long. Also not required to have closed captions are programs that are mainly non-vocal music, such as a symphony or ballet performance. Similarly, closed captioning is not required for video programming soundtracks that are displayed visually through text or graphics, such as program schedule channels or community bulletin boards. Closed captioning is also not required for video programming distributed during “late night hours” – a four-hour period, usually between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. local time.

Video programming shown on a new network is exempt from the closed captioning rules for the first four years of the new network’s operation. Video programming providers are not required to spend any money to caption programs on any channel that produces less than less than $3 million annual revenues. For channels that produce more than $3 million annual revenues, video programming providers are not required to spend more than 2% of those revenues on closed captioning.

Closed captioning is also not required for video programming transmitted by an Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) licensee (educational video programming, such as for school districts and university systems). Closed captioning is also not required for educational programming produced locally by public television stations for use in schools, including post-secondary schools. Other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), require schools to make their educational services accessible to individuals with disabilities. To comply with these other laws, schools may need to caption their televised programs.

Closed captioning is not required for video programming that is: (1) locally produced by the video programming distributor; (2) has no repeat value (is not worth showing more than one time); (3) is of local public interest; (4) is not news programming;and (4) cannot be captioned using the “electronic news room” technique of captioning. The FCC intended that this exception to the closed captioning rules would “apply only to a limited class of truly local materials, including, for example, local parades, local high school and other nonprofessional sports, live unscripted local talk shows, and community theatre productions.” FCC 1997 Report & Order at ¶ 158.

Video programming distributors do not need to request an exemption for any of the programs described above. There is one exemption from the closed captioning rules, however, that requires a video program provider to file a request with and receive approval from the FCC – the “undue burden” exemption.