New Law Could Increase Regulation for Online Video


A significant piece of new legislation, affecting all online video producers and creators, was signed in to law in October. The result could be added cost, legal exposure, and liability for online video creators.

The 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act requires that producers and content creators of online video must provide closed captioning. This has significant implications for e-commerce video, as these legal requirements will apply to all content producers, not just traditional television networks. While there is discussion of only requiring television producers to comply, the wording in the bill could be interpreted to mean any video content that is playable on a television device. With advances in television sets, accessing web content may be standard by the time the final FCC regulations are in place.

President Obama signed this bill into law on October 8, and the full implications are just starting to be understood within the video commerce industry. The new law requires that the FCC create a series of guidelines that regulate and require web video to be closed captioned, just as broadcast and cable is now.

Here is the signing ceremony, complete with appearance by Stevie Wonder:

This means that all content creators will be responsible for providing easy-to-access closed captioning tools on all of their video content.

The final regulations defining these requirements will be established by the FCC, after a series of committee meetings over the next several months.

  1. December 2010: The FCC is required to have assembled the Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee.
  2. June 2011: The Advisory Committee is required to submit a report to Congress that outlines a schedule for requiring closed captioning; technical specs that content providers must adhere to, and any recommendations around additional regulations needed.

The committee will have broad authority to require certain technical protocols, and require usability standards for accessing the closed caption controls. Beyond closed captioning, the bill also has similar requirements for “video description” information. Video description is audio information that describes what’s happening visually on the screen, and designed for use by the blind to access video content.

The impact for all content producers should be obvious. If you have video content on your website, you will need to ensure that there is strong closed captioning provided to be in compliance with this law. While this is burdensome, the prospects for doing business with the deaf and hard of hearing community are attractive. The community is close knit, and therefore, customer loyalty is very high.

An important exemption is issued for consumer generated media. This goes a long way to ensure that huge video platforms, like YouTube, won’t be liable for ensuring compliance. But, if an e-commerce company uses online video for commercial purposes, they may not be exempt; that will be defined as the advisory committee meets.

Of course, you have two choices for ensuring compliance. If you run your video content through a home-grown delivery solution, you will need to build out a closed captioning technology. The benefits are increased customization, but the cost is clear – both financial and in terms of legal exposure.

If you partner with a video platform for delivery, then you need to ensure that your vendor has a roadmap to ensure compliance with these new Americans with Disability Act provisions and update any contracts or service documents to ensure that they accept liability for compliance. If you use embedded video delivery (like embedding YouTube videos on your own website), it is not clear which platform will have liability at this point. Ask your partners about their plans to support closed captioning now, so it will be on your roadmap for 2011.

Do you already have closed captioned videos on your website? Please share your examples in the comments.

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