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What Advertisers Need to Know About Closed Captioning

TV Spot production may be complex, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. In an effort to keep marketers up to date on the ever-changing technical world of digital and TV, we’re sharing an ongoing “cheat sheet” of video production tips to make sure your creative looks its best. Today we’re talking about closed captioning. These helpful subtitles, which have been around since the 1970s, aren’t anything new to advertisers. However, the rules governing how to use them with creative are constantly evolving. What do advertisers need to know about closed captioning now and moving forward?

Closed captioning is sometimes mandatory
Although many advertisers already use closed captioning on their spots voluntarily, did you know that’s it’s mandatory in some cases? This is true for any creative running during the Super Bowl, as well as creative that will air in Canada. Closed captioning is also mandatory for content longer than five minutes in length in the U.S.

Know when to use “paint-on” vs. “pop-on” captions
There are several distinct ways of displaying closed captions. Pop-on captions are typically one or two lines of captions that come onscreen and are visible for several seconds before disappearing. Meanwhile, paint-on captions are “painted” on the screen letter-by-letter, not added on all at once. It’s important to remember to use paint-on rather than pop-on captions at the beginning of creative executions to avoid cutting off the first line(s) since pop-on captions require a 20-frame buffer.

New captioning rules for digital creative
Although closed captioning has traditionally been associated with broadcast commercials, the FCC is continuously rolling out new rules for captions on digital creative. For instance, full-length Internet video programming and video clips (“straight lift” clips) distributed online already must be captioned if the programming is also shown on TV in the US with captions. Starting in January 2017, single files containing multiple straight lift video clips (“montages”) will also need to be captioned. Additional digital captioning rules go into effect in July 2017, so make sure to check the latest FCC guidelines for updates.