September 30, 2013, marked another in a sequence of deadlines that the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) identifies for captioning requirements for internet distribution.
All pre-recorded programming edited for internet distribution must now be captioned. This follows a previous deadline of March 30, 2013, requiring online programming that was previously shown with captions on television to also have captions online.
Similar to other recent FCC regulations, including program audio loudness management and video description requirements, these rules apply to video distributors even if they are not the content owners. While the increasing regulations certainly carry the requirement that the MVPD (multichannel video program distributor) must assure these additional features and functionalities are implemented and operating correctly in the plant, paying attention to compliance will demonstrate the provider’s commitment to their subscribers’ service satisfaction levels and reduce customer trouble calls.
Closed captions (CC) are widely used by the deaf or hard-of-hearing, to improve language comprehension and literacy, or in environments where it is not desirable to have program sound turned up. As there are now many consumers of CC information, the last several years have seen various FCC closed caption deadline schedules that accommodate a phasing-in of requirements – first for English language programming and, more recently in 2010 and 2012, for Spanish language programming.
Having to respond to complaints from both subscribers and the FCC for CC issues within fixed time limits, MVPDs must monitor their CC functioning closely. As part of their obligations, MVPDs must pass through captions of already captioned programs on their networks so that the closed caption data from the program originator is forwarded to subscribers.
With the growth of video delivery through the internet, the same content that is streamed via UDP/IP and HFC networks and using conventional set top box devices is now often made available via HTTP internet protocols intended for PCs and mobile devices using adaptive bit rate protocols (ABR) and local caching via CDNs.
As these delivery systems have evolved, MVPD CC regulatory requirements have kept pace and so too have monitoring and quality assurance tools. Now, CCs are increasingly required for content delivered over the internet. The same end-to-end quality assurance solutions used for conventional delivery have evolved into assurance tools for monitoring pre- and post-origin servers at selected CDN caching locations, and the use of active measurement clients targeted for HTTP internet streaming delivery chains.
CALM Act Loudness Compliance
On December 13, 2011, the FCC adopted rules implementing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act). The CALM Act directs the FCC to adopt rules limited to incorporating by reference and making mandatory (subject to certain waiver provisions) the ATSC’s “Recommended Practice: Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television” (A/85 RP) and “any successor thereto” with respect to the transmission of commercial advertisements. The FCC’s rules became effective on December 13, 2012.
The rules apply to all broadcast television stations, cable operators and other MVPDs but only to commercials transmitted digitally. The rules do not apply to analog cable service. The Order lays out steps cable operators and other MVPDs may take to demonstrate compliance for locally‐inserted commercials in the event of an enforcement inquiry and to fall within the “safe harbor” for embedded commercials (commercials originating from a network source upstream from the provider).
Operators can also be deemed compliant for all commercials if they use real-time loudness processing. However, as the FCC Order notes, such real-time processing reduces the overall audio quality and is assumed to be an undesirable option.
All MVPDs must have the necessary equipment to provide programming compliant with the A/85 RP and must be able to demonstrate that such equipment has been “properly installed, maintained and utilized.” MVPDs that install, utilize and maintain the equipment and software needed to comply with the A/85 RP, will be considered to be CALM Act compliant, with respect to locally inserted commercials, if they:
- Ensure the equipment properly measures the loudness of the content and that the dialnorm metadata value correctly matches the loudness of the content when encoding the audio into AC‐3 for transmitting the content to the consumer;
- Provide records showing the consistent use of this equipment and demonstrate that the equipment has been subject to commercially reasonable periodic maintenance and testing to ensure its proper operation;
- Certify that they either have no actual knowledge of a violation of A/85 RP, or that they have promptly corrected any violation; and
- Certify that their own transmission equipment is not at fault for any pattern or trend of complaints.
For “non-certified” content, larger MVPDs are required to perform minimum periodic spot checks to assure content complies with ATSC’s A/85 Recommended Practice. The spot check requires operators to monitor 24 hours of uninterrupted programming with an audio loudness meter and to review the records from that monitoring to detect any commercials transmitted in violation of the A/85 RP.
Monitoring scalability is readily achieved in the network after local ads are spliced before they are sent to the Edge equipment for either QAM modulation or transmission over FTTX or DSL lines. These later transmission steps do not affect program loudness.
As with CC, audio loudness monitoring investments should not be made only to comply with government regulations, but should augment the MVPD’s quality improvement initiatives and maximize subscribers’ viewing experience. Most MVPDs today employ video quality service assurance solutions that can be easily upgraded to perform loudness monitoring and help MVPDs resolve any loudness issues that are bothering their subscribers.
The FCC reports that in the United States complaints of loud commercials have steadily dropped from a high of nearly 5,000 per month (when the rules took effect in December 2012) to a low of about 1,000 in May 2013, possibly due to increased attention to the issue by MVPDs and the use of large scale audio monitoring equipment that can detect any loudness issues in the presence of hundreds of simultaneously delivered channels.
CVVA Video Description Rules
Video description’s audio narration of a program’s visual content was reinstated as part of the CVAA in 2010. It requires top broadcasters and MVPDs to include certain numbers of hours of video description content for their most popular networks. This feature makes programming accessible to subscribers who are blind or visually impaired – for the U.S., that means over 21 million adults. As of July 1, 2015, even more network broadcast affiliates in more markets will be required to provide the video description service.
Earlier this year, in April, the FCC issued rules requiring visual descriptions for emergency information presented outside of newscasts. This information includes emergency information presented as an on-screen crawl or information that is presented on maps or graphics, and must take priority over other content on the secondary audio stream. These rules carry two year compliance deadlines.
Video description rules also require that MVPDs pass through any video description provided with programming that they have the technical capability to handle and if that capacity is not used for other program-related content. Since video description audio is carried using the secondary audio program, if both English and Spanish audio is provided for a program, for example, there is no capacity for video description. For compliance, video description service assurance is currently largely a matter of making sure that the secondary audio channel is properly delivered.
Video description is not yet required for programming delivered over increasingly popular PCs and mobile devices but is under active consideration.
What’s an MVPD to do?
In today’s complex network environment, video and service quality assurance is part of every provider’s routine – some providers have automated these tasks somewhat more than others. The regulations mentioned here are readily addressed with modern, per-program, continuous monitoring equipment such as those recommended by ANSI/SCTE 168-6’s “Recommended Practice for Monitoring Multimedia Distribution Quality”.
Not only are the routine transitory audio/video/control stream impairments such as lost packets and distortions in the IP or HFC networks, encryption status, and missing audio channels among many others identified and located for rapid troubleshooting, today’s real-time high volume monitors also identify CALM and CVAA issues. Therefore, many MVPDs are already well equipped to meet the emerging regulatory requirements and use already deployed gear with limited changes to existing workflows.
As the same content is provided to the internet delivery equipment chain for delivery via ABR and HTTP, the same assurance techniques, and sometimes even the same equipment, can be used to assure compliance to the rules as they develop for the important emerging three screen market segment.
*"CC in a TV" symbol was created at WGBH.
**FCC CALM Act, FCC Report and Order, FCC 11-182
***CVAA, Public Law 111-260, U.S. Government Printing Office
****Video Description, FCC Report and Order, FCC 11-126