FCC adopts new video description rules for TV


Effective October 8th, the FCC is reinstating most of the video description rules it adopted in 2000 to make TV programming accessible to visually impaired people, but which were thrown out by a federal court five month after they took effect, ruling that the Commission lacked authority from Congress to make such rules. Now that the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) is law, most of the rules are coming back.

While the full force of the rules doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2012 for broadcasters and cable system operators, the FCC order is effective October 8th. The rules cover  “Video description,” which is the insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements into natural pauses in the program’s dialogue to make video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

“This Order reinstates the requirement that large-market broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks, and multichannel video programming distributor systems (MVPDs) with more than 50,000 subscribers, provide video description.  Covered broadcasters are each required to provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children’s programming, per calendar quarter, and covered MVPDs are required to provide the same number of hours on each of the five most popular non-broadcast networks.  This ‘most popular’ list excludes two non-broadcast networks that primarily air programming recorded less than 24 hours before it is first aired.  [Editor’s note: ESPN and Fox News Channel] The rules also require that all network-affiliated broadcasters (commercial or non-commercial) and all MVPDs pass through any video description provided with programming they carry.  They must do so, however, only to the extent that they are technically capable of doing so and when that technical capability is not being used for another purpose related to the programming.  As required under the CVAA, these rules will be reinstated on October 8, 2011.  Broadcast stations and MVPDs subject to the rules must begin full compliance on July 1, 2012,” said the FCC order issued Thursday (8/25).

“The July 1, 2012 date of enactment will allow users of video description to enjoy the new TV shows of next fall from the beginning, which is an integral component of the social importance of this item,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

“NAB applauds the leadership of Chairman [Julius] Genachowski in implementing the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. We appreciate the efforts of the Chairman, his fellow Commissioners and the FCC staff to craft rules that work for all the interested parties. Broadcasters are committed to meeting the programming needs of all members of their local communities. We look forward to working with the agency on a practical approach that ensures this service to the visually impaired community is realized on a timely and reasonable basis,” said a statement from NAB Manager, Media Relations Zamir Ahmed.