FCC Exacts $3.5 Million Penalty from Streamer Pluto TV

Pluto TV channel guide
The FCC said Pluto TV wasn't passing through closed captions in violation of accessibility rules. (Image credit: Pluto TV)

The Federal Communications Commission's Enforcement Bureau says ViacomCBS's Pluto TV has agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil penalty over claims that Pluto TV streamed off-TV video on some platforms without the availability of the requisite captions, in violation of FCC rules. The company has also admitted to liability for its actions.

ViacomCBS conceded as part of the settlement that Pluto had violated the FCC's internet protocol TV (IPTV) rules and will adopt a compliance plan to make sure that does not happen again. Also as part of the settlement, and absent any future violation, the regulator said it would not hold a hearing on ViacomCBS's basic qualifications to hold “any” FCC license, which would have put the CBS-owned TV station licenses in play.

The FCC adopted closed-captioning rules for IPTV but said this is the first enforcement action against an online video streamer related to the rules.

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Pluto TV had sought a waiver of the rules for some platforms, but according to the FCC, continued to deliver its video programming to those platforms even though it did not pass through the requisite captions.

The FCC rules implementing the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) “require the closed captioning of IP-delivered video programming and impose requirements on certain apparatus that receive or play back video programming (including certain recording devices). All non-exempt, full-length video programming delivered using Internet Protocol must be provided with closed captions if the programming was previously shown on television in the United States with captions or is live programming being shown on television in the United States with captions.”

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The Enforcement Bureau said it had confirmed that Pluto did not comply with those rules on “numerous platforms,” and did not provide contact information for any complaints about captioning. The upshot, said the FCC, was that hearing disabled viewers were not able to access the captioning when viewing Pluto TV over some platforms.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.