Two decisions released last week shed light on how the FCC will review petitions for exemption from the closed captioning rules under the “economically burdensome” standard.

The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau granted Gerald Bryant TV, Inc., producer of the music show JBTV, a “temporary exemption” of two years from captioning.  In 2012, Bryant operated at a net loss of more than $140K and had net current liabilities of almost $560K, which persuaded the Bureau that “having to captioning its program will exacerbate these losses and possibly lead to the termination of the program.”  The two-year reprieve “will give Bryant ample time to locate ways to comply with the closed captioning requirements,” especially “given the evolution of technology, potential drops in the cost of captioning over time, and the possibility that the financial status of Bryant may change.”

Bryant’s two-year temporary exemption from the closed captioning rules is the first such waiver granted by the Bureau.  Perhaps what tipped the balance in Bryant’s favor is that his losses were so significant that even the public interest groups – usually uniform in their opposition to any waiver of the closed captioning rules – agreed that a limited waiver appeared to be appropriate. Clearly, the Bureau is sending a message that it will interpret the “economically burdensome” standard very narrowly.

This message was reinforced in the Bureau’s decision to deny a similar petition by First Lutheran Church of Albert Lea (FLC), producer of the worship service show Peace & Power.  In 2012, FLC and its production affiliate operated at an aggregate net profit of more than $42K and had total net current assets of almost $188K.  The Bureau determined that “FLC could have begun providing closed captioning and still have operated at a profit” of about $33K in 2012, and its net current assets are “further evidence that the provision of closed captioning would not be economically burdensome.”

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