Captions for advertisements and commercials have been in existence from 1970s, but the rules that govern them have been evolving from the time they were introduced. Closed captioning is not new to advertisers and is being used across the globe, but it is mandatory in cases where creatives are aired during major sporting events, and when the content is more than five minutes in duration.
According to a survey on captioning commercials, the FCC does not require TV advertisers to caption commercials as they are not defined as video programming. According to the FCC, a video programming includes advertisements of more than five minutes in duration, but excludes anything that is lesser than the said time frame. This means that while the distributors are to ensure that the entire content that falls under the non-exempt category is captioned, the rest of it need not be.
The landscape for closed captioning for TV commercials is inconsistent, and details on the exact number of ads that are captioned is hard to determine, as the numbers vary by market. A majority of the commercials aired during major sporting events like the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League, are captioned, due to the huge popularity of the game. This has been in vogue from 2010, the time when the National Association of the Deaf partnered with NFL and CBS to make advertisers aware of captioning content when they purchase Super Bowl commercials. This ensured that more than 75% of the commercials aired during Super Bowl events were captioned and made accessible to those with hearing disabilities, and the remaining 25% either did not require captioning as they had no sound, or fell under the “exempt” category that did not mandate captioning as a requirement.
Apart from advertisements vouching for products, certain other forms of TV ads including political advertisements and public service announcements are also captioned when it becomes a legal necessity. Setting aside the legal requirement, the cost involved in making a commercial is much more than the cost involved in captioning its content. With approximately 20% of Americans having hearing disabilities, it makes good sense to caption commercials for a broader reach, as the rewards advertisers who caption their commercials reap, are potentially much more than the ones who don’t.
It would be really interesting to note that while commercials are said to be disliked by many, it turns out that it is a wrong assumption; as more than 50% of respondents to a survey conducted to check if hard of hearing individuals would be interested to watch captioned commercials, had responded by saying “Yes”. More than equality, advertisers should understand that by not captioning their commercials, they lose a fair share of market opportunity as there are millions of hard of hearing Americans who could be potential buyers of their products/services. It is high time that advertisers, apart from understanding the importance of equal access, also are aware of the rewards captioning commercials can actually bring.