Closed Captions and New FCC Mandate For Online Video

The following article was written by our CEO, Hiren Hindocha, and originally appeared on The Broadcast Bridge here.


This year’s FCC mandate on closed captioning need not be seen as yet another weight on broadcasters’ backs. Implemented as part of an automated system or outsourced to a qualified provider, adding accurate and immediate closed captions is another way for viewers to search and find your content.

TV broadcasters in the U.S. looking to re-run live programming online must implement the same closed captioning on their online video. Effective January 1st, 2017, the FCC regulation mandates closed captioning for all video montage clips that are published over the web if that same programming was captioned when shown live on TV in the U.S.

And effective July 1st, all live and near-live programming that runs online must be captioned if that same program included closed captions when broadcasted. A 12-hour delay is permitted for online clips after the live programming first ran on TV and the same has been set at 8 hours for near-live programs.

To provide the best possible viewer experience and comply with FCC guidelines, captions must be in perfect sync with the video. Imagine a sports highlight clip where captions lag behind the video by 10-15 seconds, as is the norm with manually produced broadcast captions for live news, sports, etc.

An automated closed captioning synchronization solution for live audio/video that synchronizes dialog and commentary into captions will be a must-have for broadcasters. An automated service ensuring the time stamp on the captions precisely matches the audio of live news and sports clips as it plays would relieve much of broadcasters’ burden after this ruling goes into effect.

Such an automatic closed caption synchronization service would retime the caption information within a video clip to maintain synchronization between the text running as captions and the corresponding dialog/action of the online video. As an example, if you’re a Major League Baseball (MLB) organization that needs to post video of an 8th inning home run on your website, the caption has to be synchronized exactly in accordance with the video and audio commentary.

Wrapped in a cloud-based platform, for broadcasters, this service would mean faster turnaround on synchronized captions, easy and secure data transfer, minimal manual intervention, and of course reduced cost due to the pay per usage model. Coupled with an automated workflow and option to integrate directly with the existing platform, this service will enable broadcasters keep their worries on this one at bay and focus on other items in their already crowded plate.

Another type of service coming on the market is closed caption generation for pre-recorded programs including near-live. Content providers can send their videos to a service provider who will create captions for the content within – also through a cloud-based service model.

Closed captions increase the discoverability of video content by a reported 10 percent. How do you ensure maximum reach of your promotional video to target audience if it can’t be found through search? If you’re an event promoter, how do people who may be interested in your event find your content? If you’re publishing a one minute clip from a recent show and decided not to include captions, you’re losing valuable data. Captions are even more valuable when they’re accurate.

Assets such as animated GIF images too can include closed captions. They can further leverage that material and create a longer lifespan of interest in it.

With clips of video over social media, viewers tend to watch without sound for a variety of reasons – particularly when watching video in any environment where there are others around and a lot of ambient noise, such as a crowded subway, café or office setting. The 80 percent muted video views on Facebook substantiate the necessity of having textual representation of audio on videos to engage the viewer far more than visuals alone. Accurate closed captioning translates into more impressions, more eyeballs on social media feeds and websites.

The automated systems developed and perfected over years to produce transcripts of events like corporate conferences can be applied to the generation of closed captions as well. The automation element has proven more efficient, scalable, and economical.

With automated closed captioning, video content becomes more discoverable, increases an organization’s SEO, and increases the number of users and website impressions. Content providers need to think of accurate closed captions as a marketing expense that increases the value and visibility of your online asset.

This service comes with guarantees of high quality, completeness, synchronization and placement; the essentials to comply with FCC guidelines. Some of the value additions include multiple formats, encoding, ready-to-air, etc. This type of service could be used by any organization looking for captioned video, including schools, universities, city councils, trade show and event organizers, corporations, sports teams, and broadcasters.

Video of a conference session could be made available on demand, ensuring continued value of that program after its initial run. Anyone who’s missed an event can retrieve the video online and attend virtually at a convenient time and can choose to watch it with the audio and video only or with closed captions running. Organizers should consider providing closed captions to the recorded sessions in order to make it discoverable and in turn monetizing them.

With the rapid increase of internet and video content delivery, efficient streaming has gained significant importance in recent years. There are numerous challenges in this continuously evolving field of video delivery, and technologies are competing to find a place in this fast growing area. An immediate challenge in video delivery is to combine metadata with multiple audio languages to enable a high-quality viewing experience. Content generation for adaptive streaming and support for multiple streaming technologies is critical for acceptable Quality of Experience (QoE). Moreover, the extinction of Flash and the advent of HTML5 has opened up new avenues for video – including advanced native support for multimedia playback.

Additionally, increased growth in portable devices has accelerated demand for a richer mobile viewing experience. Content delivery systems have been battling hard to deliver a television-like viewing experience to multiple platforms. The demand for multi-screen delivery with minimal latency is the latest challenge in the broadcast industry. A recent dominant content delivery network report found that video contributes to more than half of today’s internet traffic and is predicted to grow in the coming years. As people migrate to streamed media, there is a need to guarantee QoE that is similar to a standard TV.

Television broadcast in general carries auxiliary information in addition to program content starting with closed-captions in multiple languages, multiple language audio streams, ratings information and emergency information. Some popular streaming technologies, such as Flash/RTMP, are not well equipped to provide QoE with all the auxiliary data – and not all mobile devices support Flash. Considering the above, one of the best ways to generate next generation content delivery is HTTP Live Streaming, known in short as HLS.

HLS is an HTTP-based media streaming communications protocol implemented by Apple software. One of the reasons why HLS is a superior standard is its support for metadata, including SCTE-128 closed captions and multiple audio streams. Specifically, SCTE-128 is a closed-captioning standard for MPEG2/H264 compressed video, where the caption data is stored as user-data in MPEG2 and supplemental enhancement information (SEI) in H264 video. Similarly, multiple audio streams can be added to MPEG-TS natively.

HLS is also based on the MPEG-TS format that’s widely used in ATSC and DVB standards, making it a highly scalable streaming format. It also supports H.264 video and AAC audio. The HLS format’s Transport Stream specification is designed for broadcast content delivery and supports carriage of a wide range of auxiliary information. Popular browsers support HLS playback natively, including Safari in OSX and Edge in Windows 11. Third party JavaScript (JS) plugins can interface with browsers’ HMLT5 video API and playback HLS streams in all major browsers.

In addition, the HLS standard supports adaptive streaming where the client side player can seamlessly switch between video streams encoded at various bitrates. This guarantees optimal QoE, with no buffering in situations where available internet bandwidth varies over a period of time.

Considering all of the above, HLS is a preferred choice and future of video streaming – which is why Digital Nirvana is moving towards use of the format for all of its products and services. The latest version of Digital Nirvana’s media management system, MonitorIQ 5.0, is HLS-based. Supported by all major desktop browsers and mobile operating systems, video delivery using HLS can guarantee a more television-like viewing experience with support for metadata, multiple-audio streams, adaptive streaming and optimal QoE.