Non-compliance with Captioning over the Internet Rules Results on a $3.5 Million Fine for Pluto TV & ViacomCBS

Since 2010, there are in place rules that regulate captioning over the internet, so people with hearing disabilities have the same access that other viewers have to the internet video content. Let’s say that you saw a program on TV with captions and that later you found the same program over the internet without captions. Since the program has been previously shown on TV with captions, those same captions must be available when you watch the program over the internet. Failing to show them is a violation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).

What is Pluto TV? Pluto is a free internet television service that started streaming on different platforms in 2014. It streams over the Internet via the Pluto TV app, Pluto’s website, or other platforms such as Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Tivo, etc.

Since 2018, the FCC has received complaints from users informing that they couldn’t get the closed captioning feature to work on Pluto TV. The FCC addressed those complaints with Pluto TV and asked Pluto to submit monthly progress reports. However, at the end of the day, Pluto continued to offer Pluto TV on existing Platforms and several new Platforms without complying with the Captioning Rules.

After a negotiation process, Pluto Inc. and ViacomCBS Inc. agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine and implement a Compliance Plan within sixty calendar days after September 29, 2021. This compliance plan includes:

  • Establishing operating procedures to guarantee compliance with captioning rules.
  • Establishing testing procedures with the different platform owners to ensure that Pluto TV’s Closed Captioning features are accessible.
  • For each Platform identified as not fully compliant, coming into compliance, or ceasing operating on the platform.
  • Informing consumers on its website by maintaining an updated list of all platforms on which Pluto TV is available.
  • Adding and maintaining a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section to its website to address commonly asked questions about Closed Captioning on Pluto TV.
  • Publishing on its website the contact information for written Complaints related to Closed Captioning and the method(s) for filing such Complaints.

As the FCC mentions, this marks the first action taken regarding the violation of the internet protocol closed captioning rules. It highlights the importance of compliance to provide audiences with hearing disabilities with the accessibility they deserve and shows the importance of users’ complaints. Next time you notice non-compliance with the video accessibility rules, don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Center.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, all television and internet content providers will be committed to providing equal access to their programming for all users. On that day, complaints will no longer be necessary, but in the meantime, do not hesitate to make your voice heard.

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