FCC sets captioning timetable for TV biz

WASHINGTON — The television industry has eight years to caption 95% of new programming and 10 years to caption 75% of library inventory, the FCC ruled Thursday.

Distributors, including broadcast networks, cable networks and syndicators, will be responsible for captioning the material, the Federal Communications Commission said. Most of the major broadcast and cable networks already caption most of their programming and will have no trouble complying with the regulation, according to Joseph Karlovits, president of Vitac, a Pennsylvania-based captioning company.

In an effort to ensure that the cost of captioning will not become an obstruction for fledgling programming services, the FCC ruled that a programming service does not have to spend more than 2% of its gross revenue on captioning; distributors and cable networks that have annual gross revenue of less than $3 million are exempt from the rule, which takes effect Jan. 1.

The FCC also set benchmarks for phasing in the captions during the next 10 years. By the first quarter of 2000, broadcasters, cablers, wireless cable and DBS services must caption at least 25% of their programming. The requirement will increase by 25% every two years.

Ads shorter than five minutes, non-English-language programming and latenight programming also are exempt from the captioning requirement.

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