New Video Accessibility Law Mandates Closed Captions for TV Shows Online and More

New Video Accessibility Law Mandates Closed Captions for TV Shows Online and More

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The US Government recently finished work on the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. The thing is 74 pages long, and yes, I read through the whole blasted thing. It’s mostly a lot of legal speak for “we think videos made for TV that end up online must have closed captioning,” and I agree. Some of the other stuff seems sort of silly but hey, who am I to judge, after all, we pay them to do a good job right .

The 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act

When reading through I had access to Tom Wilde, the CEO of RAMP, on hand as a source for industry thoughts on the whole bill and its implications for the online video industry. RAMP, as you may not know, is a leader in Content Optimization for major online media publishers and its web closed captioning offering as readily compliant for the new legal requirements of broadcasters to provide closed captioning for online video. So in other words, I had the right guy.

Now don’t panic, not all online video will automatically need closed captioning and video description text attached to them right away. Of course, you’re doing closed captioning for SEO purposes already, so you needn’t worry, right? In reading through the act, as I understand it, this is only for video that is first broadcast on TV and then on the web. So that would then automatically exclude almost all user-generated content, etc. If you’re not supplying your video for television broadcasting, you’re fine, for now.

According to the act, places like Google Search and Amazon S3 are immune as both of them fall into the limitation of liability – ” transmits, routes, or stores in intermediate or transient storage the communications made available through the provision of advanced communications services by a third party; or (2) provides an information location tool, such as a directory, index, reference, pointer, menu…” Tom agreed with me stating that they are, “treated as the equivalent of an ISP.”

Hulu poses an interesting question. If they own rights to the content they have then they would be forced to supply closed captioning for all of it. Then again, it’s all been on TV already and should have the closed captions already available, so no big need for them to boost the Hulu Plus price (especially since they’ve realized that $10 a month was probably asking too much already).

In my further reading, video sharing sites like YouTube, DailyMotion, etc only need to allow for the display of closed captioning and are not responsible for creating captions for any video they themselves do not create, however I was curious whether they would need to have audio menus on their services as well as visual to comply with the requirements. Tom also wasn’t sure and said, “Section 508 requires that all Government sites have this ability, but now it is being extended beyond just government sites.” So that could be just the case then.

Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee

This committee will be responsible for setting forth guidelines for IP-delivered video and accessibility by the disabled which means on screen text menus for the deaf and audio output for the blind on all online video services that or those that replay TV content?

I thought this could then extend to online video players (Flow, JW, Miro…) and that they will need to support both visual and audio menus as well as the ability to display closed captions They use the term “apparatus” all of the time and don’t seem to really ever say software. Tom believes that, “the players need to include this capability at some point in the future.”

Closed Captions for Digital TV, Live and Near-Live Streaming?

The bill definitely applies to digital TV, doesn’t apply to LIVE or near-live streaming but would cover replayed and recorded versions apparently. So a LIVE NHL or MLB game wouldn’t need it but once it’s recorded for later display online it would need to have closed captioning.

Tom said that, “the biggest challenge for the industry is that the CC files disappear during the digitization and clipping that happens when clips are moved online. We have been in the market for a long time and have seen less than 10% of our clients can actually provide the CC file.”

This could then spell disaster for some places like Hulu who, if not supplied with the CC files for a large section of their library, would have to generate them prior to online streaming. That goes for any major broadcaster who is re-broadcasting shows online from an earlier era, when there was no Closed captioning laws. Of course, there is always the financial burden clause that could exempt a company from the need to supply the CC. If it is deemed to fiscally burdensome to do so they could get some form of waiver. I bet places like Hulu, YouTube and the like won’t qualify.

Video Accessibility Law & The Overall Impact for Online Video

Since I already had Tom’s ear on the subject, I thought I would bend it on some more broad-reaching topics.Like what will it mean for the online video industry as a whole? Many sites already offer subtitles and captions so it won’t be a major burden for most right?

Its primarily a workflow question. Content providers have several choices. They can create subtitles themselves, they can outsource, or they can provide the CC files to a firm like RAMP who can algorithmically align the CC files to the audio track. There are many second order benefits such as improved search and SEO, ad targeting, etc.

Of course, we all knew that already as we regularly read ReelSEO and these have been topics of conversation here already. I was curious how much it would cost to do closed captioning for a TV show and Tom told me it was roughly $1/min. Now I’m starting to think that I work in the wrong branch of online video and with my 120 word-per-minute typing speed, I could certainly do some of this type of work as well. Historically, what I learned, is that it is mostly court reporters who are doing this sort of work as they are highly trained in the art of listening and typing exactly what they hear.

Video descriptions on the other hand cover major visual elements and are those things you see when you’re watching TV on mute at your local watering hole. Things like “people cheering,” “music playing” and “crowd noises.”

Finally, I asked Tom what percentage of online video he thought this will directly impact. He said that, “It’s important to make a distinction between % of content and % of views. The majority of content on the web is not professional content, but the majority of video views is professional content, so the percentage impact will be significant.” By professional content I’m guessing that he meant “made for television” and not content generated exclusively for the web or user-created.

Closed Captions – The Take Away

mmm... Chinese foodThat being said, there is a lot of value in having closed captioning for your major online video. Not only does it help with SEO but it also helps expand your viewing audience. I did a quick survey of my favorite online video series over at Revision 3 (Hi Jim.) and found that they do not have closed captioning available for their shows (at least not in any easily found format if it does exist. What’s up with that Jim?). So I headed to Vimeo and also found no CC. OK, that’s really more for online video lovers and not really mainstream consumption. But what about a place like DailyMotion? I headed into their News section and found that they also don’t offer CC, even on a news piece from ITN News (which I am guessing is also for television somewhere in the world).

In fact, I couldn’t even see any kind of option to turn them on at any of the aforementioned services. I muted the sound both on the video and on my PC to see if they would automatically pop up on any of those places and they did not. That could then mean that the content providers, if they are supplying clips to TV also, would have to either only supply the content to sites that allow for closed captioning, or not put it online at all. Uh oh.

We know that Google, Yahoo and Blinkx all use CC files for search indexing. We know that YouTube can do closed captioning automatically and that Grant already talked about whether it should/could be mandatory for all online video.

Now, don’t you want to go use one of these tools and get some closed captioning of your video content done? See, I told you we’ve talked a lot about it here at ReelSEO. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 Law has been signed by President Obama (or else I would have called it a Bill of course. Cuz I’m just a Bill, yes only a Bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill – the song which ran through my head the whole time I researched and wrote this article), on October 8, 2010. So it’s coming one way or another. Now, hopefully, you’ve got a better understanding on how it applies to you, if at all. There’s nothing to stop the Government from expanding on this in the future.

I do foresee a future where all online video will need closed captioning, though some line will need to be drawn either in length of video or in user vs. professionally created. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing. It will certainly allow those with disabilities to better enjoy your content and it will also help people find your content more readily. Considering that Tom Wilde quotes “$1/minute” roughly, I don’t know that it would really affect all of you that much if you’re making short clips. Plus, you could just do it yourself considering you made the video in question or paid to have it made, so should also have the CC done for various reasons.

Congratulations Bill, You’re a Law!


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