As much as the NFL has tried to improve accessibility rights for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing through the introduction of ASL interpreters and performers, they have still failed to fully include captions for the big game day commercials.
Not all commercials are accessible for everyone to enjoy — and that’s because of a little unknown and unfortunate Federal Communications Commission (FCC) legal loophole. According to the FCC, advertisers are exempt from captioning if the content is less than five minutes long because the content is not considered to be “video programming.”
"According to the FCC, advertisers are exempt from captioning if the content is less than five minutes long because the content is not considered to be “video programming.”
While there have been a few companies who broadcasted commercials during the Super Bowl with captions, some continue not to do so, simply because they don’t ‘have to’.
Captions are for Everyone
The importance of captioning content goes beyond just accommodating the deaf community. Any live event — especially if it’s one that’s historically recognized for capturing millions of people’s attention — should include interpretation, and at the very least, accurate captioning.
Captions serve different segments of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and are necessary for individuals who may or may not be fluent in English or ASL. While captions account for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing, they also create an inclusive experience for everyone in attendance, especially those in the crowds who may not be able to hear PA announcements, play-by-play commentaries, or referee calls, that get drowned out by loud stadium noises and other distractions.
The Real Cost of Captionless Commercials
When commercials aren’t captioned that means they are excluding approximately 48 million viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as countless others who benefit from captions.
Commercials that are roughly 30-seconds long, cost advertisers anywhere between $4 and $5 million. Adding captioning to those same commercials is estimated to only cost $250, which is cheap in comparison to the total cost of the entire commercial itself.
With the cost of crafting the ad and buying the airtime being so high, it makes little to no sense for advertisers to disregard adding captions. The closed captioning landscape for Super Bowl commercials, as well as all TV advertisements, is definitely uneven and unfair to those that feel alienated as a result of it.
Advocacy Efforts for Captions
A lot of viewers will agree that Super Bowl ads rival the popularity of the game itself. Because the commercials are as entertaining as the Game, advocacy groups have stepped forward to address the issue of making captions more available.
In 2010, NAD, the NFL, and CBS joined together to help advertisers understand why captions for Super Bowl commercials are a necessity more so than a requirement.
According to Captions.com, when they tracked which ads were captioned and which were not for the Super Bowl in 2000, 19 commercials were captioned, 52 were not, and 4 were not required to include any at all. With those statistics in mind, that means about only 44% of the ads were made accessible.
Again in 2010, Captions.com discovered 41 commercials were captioned, 15 did not have any captions, and 5 of the ads did not require any, raising the accessibility rate to 75%.
All in all, the efforts to incorporate captions into Superbowl ads have increased access somewhat, but we’re not all the way there yet.
Achieving Equal Access for All
While the Super Bowl has shown promising progress in accessibility, there is still room to make it a more deaf-friendly game when it comes to providing equal access for deaf sports fans. Deaf and Hard of Hearing people continuously face immense injustices and challenges associated with accessibility. Despite barriers to access, we must continue to raise awareness by keeping all audiences in mind, and making every effort we can to expose deaf culture, ASL and the need for captioned content.
At Ava, we know that change can be slow and doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it’s dependent on third parties to take action. That’s why our team has worked endlessly to provide captioning software that enables our community members to get access without depending on others.
This year, you can use Ava on any device, whether it’s a computer, tablet, or phone, to caption any and all of the Superbowl commercials. The best part? It’s free and accessible to all! Click here to download Ava for free.
If you already have Ava, here’s a handy guide on using Ava for videos:
Super Bowl LVI will take place at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California on February 13, 2022. Viewers can stream and watch on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.