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What Is Closed Captioning

For those who are hearing impaired, closed captioning has made watching video and television more enjoyable. Many people have heard the term closed captioning but often confuse it with other types of captioning on television and in movies. Originally television programs began using what is known as open captioning on programs such as the news. Open captioning was when the spoken words were automatically printed on the television screen without the viewer turning them on. Closed captioning is only visible if the viewer activates it by using the remote control to the television.

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Makes Television More Enjoyable

Before closed captioning became available, those who were hearing impaired had a difficult time enjoying television shows and movies. After the FCC made captioning mandatory on all programs recorded after 1998, more people were able to enjoy television programs without being able to hear them. Even those who are not hearing impaired will occasionally use the captioning feature on their television to allow them to follow a program easily when they are unable to hear it. Most restaurants, bars and waiting rooms air television programs with closed captioning turned on.

Different Than Subtitles

Many people confuse captioning with subtitles; although there are some similarities they are very different. Subtitles are used to help an audience follow a program that may have been recorded in a different language than their own. They are also used in movies when a character speaks a different language to translate the words into the viewer’s native language. With closed captioning the words will be printed in the language they are spoken in with no translation. The FCC mandated that all English programs recorded after 1998 and all Spanish speaking programs recorded after 2010 are available in closed caption with a few exemptions available.


 There are a few automatic exemptions to the rules on closed captioning. Public service announcements that are under ten minutes in length and not funded by federal money are not required to have captions available. Television shows that are primarily images with little talking are also exempt from the rule. The final automatic exemption is for programs that air between two and six in the morning. If a program does not qualify for an automatic exemption, they always have the option to petition the FCC for an exemption. Those exemptions are mostly for companies that would face financial hardships in order to provide closed captioning.


If you are watching a program and have an issue with the closed captioning, there are two ways you can file a formal complaint about the issue. You can first file a written complaint with your television provider or the channel responsible for the broadcast you were watching. If you are unsure how to contact either of those parties you can also file a formal complaint with FCC. Once the channel or provider has received the complaint they have thirty days to respond. Most people will attempt to solve the issue on the provider level first and if they do not receive a response they will then contact the FCC.

Malcolm Marks loves providing others with information about closed captioning through his writing.

Closed Captioning

pamela • December 16, 2013

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