ViacomCBS and Pluto TV Fined $3.5 Million by FCC for Violating Closed-Caption Rules

·3 min read

ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV will pay $3.5 million to settle an FCC investigation that found the free, ad-supported video streaming service violated the commission’s accessibility rules.

According to the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, in addition to paying the civil penalty, Pluto TV agreed to enter into a compliance plan to ensure that non-exempt video programming that Pluto streams over the internet includes closed captioning in compliance with the agency’s rules.

More from Variety

In a statement, a Pluto TV spokesperson said, “We recognize the importance of closed captioning and have been working in close collaboration with the FCC on the consent decree. Pluto TV’s mission, since its onset, has been to entertain the planet. We are committed to ensuring that our audiences can freely enjoy the programming streaming on our platform with ease of use and accessibility.”

The FCC said the action against Pluto TV marks the first consent decree — and first enforcement action — related to closed-captioning rules that apply to internet-based services since their adoption in 2012. “Given the growth of streaming services, this action reinforces the FCC’s commitment that people with disabilities should be able to access and enjoy streaming services,” the bureau said in a statement.

Starting in January 2018, the FCC received several complaints from consumers who said they couldn’t get the closed captioning feature to work on Pluto TV, according to the consent decree (available at this link).

Pluto subsequently filed a petition for waiver of the closed-captioning rules on certain platforms. However, during the waiver process and subsequent investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, “Pluto failed to provide timely and accurate information to Commission staff. While Pluto appears to have had no intent to deceive or mislead the Commission, Pluto’s failure to give timely and accurate information hindered the Media Bureau’s ability to act on the Petition for Waiver and the Enforcement Bureau’s ability to execute an efficient investigation.” In addition, even after being reminded of its closed-captioning obligations, the FCC said, “Pluto continued to offer Pluto TV on existing platforms and initiated Pluto TV on several new platforms without being in compliance with the IP Closed Captioning Rules.”

The FCC’s IP closed-captioning rules apply broadly to the distributors, providers and owners of internet-delivered video programming. The rules require the closed captioning of IP-delivered video programming and impose requirements on certain devices that receive or play back video programming. Under the FCC’s regulations, all full-length video programming streamed over the internet must be provided with closed captions if the programming was previously aired on television in the U.S. with captions (or is live programming simulcast on TV in the U.S. with captions).

In the second quarter of 2021, Pluto TV topped 52 million global monthly active users and revenue shot up 169% year-over-year, more than doubling for the fourth quarter in a row. U.S. watch-time per user on Pluto TV grew 45% year-over-year, ViacomCBS said.

Pluto TV was acquired for $340 million in early 2019 by Viacom, before the media conglomerate merged with CBS to form ViacomCBS later that year.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.