Canadian CRTC Caption Laws
Updated: September 21, 2022
While certain provinces boast some of the most progressive accessibility laws in Canada, the Canadian d/Deaf and hard of hearing population has been advocating for more advanced closed captioning standards across the nation since the 1960s. In response, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has done a lot of work in the last decade to give Canadians a chance to voice their opinions and make positive changes for accessibility in the broadcast TV space.
Closed Captioning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
In 2007, after recognizing the importance of closed captioning, the broadcast industry established two working groups under the direction of the CRTC that were dedicated to the development of closed captions. One group was created for the French TV market, and the other was created for the English TV market – both groups included representatives from television broadcasters, distributors, groups representing d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as well as captioning providers.
The goal of these working groups was to form captioning standards that would ensure consistent and reliable closed captioning quality throughout the Canadian broadcasting system. Based on the work done by the two groups, the CRTC formed policies that instituted:
- Quality and quantity standards for closed captions.
- Protocol for monitoring and reporting on captioning quality.
- A vehicle for consumers to file complaints regarding closed captioning.
The CRTC requires most broadcasters to caption 100% of their programs during a broadcast day, which is defined as the hours between 6 am and midnight. They must also ensure that 100% of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned. Finally, they must provide viewers with closed captioning – if captions are available – for all programming aired overnight, which encompasses the hours from midnight to 6 am.
The CRTC has also set quality standards for captioning that include a minimum acceptable level of accuracy, which they define as the “level of exactness between [the] captions and the audio content of a program,” including correct spelling in pre-recorded content. Several additional policies that high-quality closed captioning must address are:
- Limiting lag time
- Correcting errors before re-broadcasting the program
- Providing sufficient on-screen information
- Controlling formatting
- Ensuring the captioning of emergency alerts
In addition to setting quantity and quality standards, the CRTC requires broadcasters to implement a monitoring system to ensure closed captioning is included in the broadcast signal, and that captions reach the viewer in their original form.
Measuring accuracy: the Canadian NER model
In Canada, the accuracy of closed captions are measured by the NER model, which is described in-depth in the Canadian NER Evaluation Guidelines. The NER model is also popularly used in Europe, and differs from accuracy measurement rates commonly used in the United States. In the U.S., all errors – including spelling, punctuation, grammar, speaker identifications, word substitutions, omissions, and more – are considered in order to obtain a percentage that measures the average accuracy of the closed captions on a piece of media.
The NER model, however, grades each caption error based on its severity or resulting understandability. Errors are categorized into six types, each with corresponding deduction values of either 0.0, 0.25, 0.5, or 1.0 (a full point deduction). In this way, the Canadian NER model functions more as a score than a percentage – caption accuracy scores begin at 100, and are graded according to the number of errors along with their assigned score deductions.
This being said, Canadian guidelines require broadcasters to target 100% accuracy on pre-recorded programs, while live programming accuracy requirements are more forgiving – French-language content should target 85% accuracy, while English-language content should target 98% accuracy. In general, it’s typical for live captioning accuracy rates to be lower than that of pre-recorded content, and the primary difference in standards for French and English audiences in Canada is largely due to the captioning techniques used by and/or available to each market.
Since policies like the CRTC’s captioning standards are so broad, it can be difficult to track compliance. In an effort to continuously improve accessibility for everyone, the CRTC accepts complaints regarding any issues with closed captioning to ensure broadcasters comply with standards. Action can also be taken on behalf of complaints that are made to the CRTC.
When an issue is suspected, the CRTC can request that a broadcasting organization submit monthly accuracy rate calculations to monitor and evaluate their compliance. In a case where it seems there is ongoing noncompliance, the CRTC can impose additional requirements to oversee a broadcaster.
All broadcasting complaints must be filed in writing.
The Let’s Talk TV Initiative
The 2013-2014 Let’s Talk TV initiative aimed to get the input of the Canadian people and open the conversation regarding what they want to see on TV. In 2015, the CRTC asked Canadians to share their views on three questions in particular:
- What do you think about what’s on television?
- What do you think about how you receive television programming?
- Do you have enough information to make informed choices and seek solutions if you’re not satisfied?
More than 13,000 people voiced their thoughts and opinions, and the CRTC found that people (a) want access to high-quality content, (b) want value in choice, (c) want to understand what they’re paying for, and (d) want to know how to settle disputes with their service providers. There were many decisions and outcomes that came out of the Let’s Talk TV campaign, including future plans for captioning requirements for online videos.
CRTC Captioning in the Online World
As a result of the Let’s Talk TV initiative, the CRTC expects that closed captioning will be extended to online broadcasting in addition to traditional broadcasting in the near future.
Even when content is online, the CRTC:
- Expects that if the content had captioning in its original broadcast, it must be captioned when it’s published online.
- Requires that broadcasters report yearly on the availability of captioning for their online content.
Learn about Canada’s most comprehensive web accessibility standards in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
This blog post was originally published by Elisa Lewis in August 2017, and has since been updated for comprehensiveness, clarity, and accuracy.
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