TV Regulations (Canada)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a number of policies that outline quality and quantity standards for closed captioning and audio description, monitor and report on accuracy, and provide avenues for consumer complaints and concerns.

Closed Captioning Requirements

When it comes to closed captioning quantity, the CRTC requires most broadcasters to:

  • Caption 100% of their programs broadcast from 6 AM to midnight
  • Ensure that 100% of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned
  • Provide viewers with closed captioning for all programming aired overnight (from midnight to 6 AM) if captions are available

The CRTC also has standards for closed captioning accuracy. For prerecorded programs, broadcasters must target a captioning accuracy rate of 100%. For live programming, French captions must target an accuracy rate of 85% compared to a verbatim transcript. For English-language live captioning, broadcasters must reach an accuracy rate of at least 98, as measured by the method described in the Canadian NER Evaluation Guidelines.

CRTC policies also address:

  • Minimizing caption lag time for prerecorded and live programming
  • Correcting errors before re-broadcasting a program
  • Providing proper placement of captions to avoid blocking on-screen information
  • Controlling various aspects of formatting, including the use of chevrons and, for French-language programming, hyphens
  • Ensuring the captioning of emergency alerts
Close up of a human hand, pale peach in color, holds a black remote with the thumb poised to make a selection. The TV image in the background is blurry, but shows captions on the screen in yellow lettering.

Audio Description Requirements

The CRTC has policies in place for audio description and described video on TV programs, making them accessible for people who are blind or with low vision. There are subtle differences between the two.

Canadian regulations note that audio description relies on a program host or announcer to provide a voice-over by reading aloud or describing key elements of programming, such as text and graphics that appear on the screen. It is often used for information-based programming, including newscasts, weather reports, sports scores, and financial data. Most broadcasters are required to provide audio description.

Microphone in front of a computer monitor for recording audio description tracksDescribed video, or video description, is a narrated description of a program’s main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, and body language. The description is added during pauses in dialogue, and enables viewers to form a mental picture of what is happening in the program. Described video typically uses a separate audio track.

The CRTC requires that broadcasters provide audio description for all in-house productions related to information-based programs, and that all conventional broadcasters (as well as certain French and English pay and specialty broadcasters) offer four hours of described video per week, and are encouraged to make described programming available online.

More recently, the CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” initiative further increased the amount of described video provided by broadcasters, with tiered requirements geared to the broadcaster’s size and resources.

As a result, certain broadcasters are required to provide described video for all suitable programming broadcast between 7 and 11 PM, seven days a week, while all other non-exempt broadcasters are required to provide four hours of programming with described video per week.

Programming that is not well suited for described video, including newscasts and sports, will continue to be exempt from these requirements.

Additionally, broadcasting distributors are required to make accessible hardware and remote controls available to subscribers, provided these are available and are compatible with distribution systems.