FCC Publishes New Rules Requiring Video Description on TV

by Melanie Brunson

ACB members have worked tirelessly for several years to ensure that video description will again be provided for television programs. Due to a new rule just published by the Federal Communications Commission, our work will finally start bearing fruit in 2012! We are less than a year away from having meaningful access to some of our favorite TV programming.

Below is a good summary of the critical components of the rule. Thanks to WGBH for contributing significantly to the development of this summary. 

Basic summary (technical and other details available in the full report and order at fcc.gov): Under the rule, commercial network affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in top 25 markets must provide 50 hours of described prime-time or children's programming per quarter, starting with the quarter beginning July 1, 2012; the requirement expands to top 60 markets in July 2015.

Cable networks are subject to the same rules - top 5: USA, the Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon, and TBS; via their carriers: cable and satellite systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers (officially "multichannel video programming distributors" - MVPDs - which includes Verizon's FiOS-TV and AT&T's U-verse). Determination of top 5 based on Nielsen ratings; will be updated at three-year intervals.

All broadcast stations associated with any television network must pass through video description when the network provides it, if the broadcast station has the necessary technical capability.

All MVPDs of any size must pass through video description of any broadcast station or non-broadcast network.

Described programs can be counted twice toward the 50-hour requirement - that is, one original airing and one repeat. The second airing can be in the next quarter from the original airing.

Exemptions can be petitioned for and granted by FCC upon a finding that the requirements would be economically burdensome ("imposing significant difficulty or expense"), based on costs, resources, operations of the provider. Public notice of the petition and comment period are required. A program is considered exempt until an FCC decision is issued. Complaint procedures are detailed in the Report & Order; no private right of action is allowed (consumers cannot sue responsible parties for compliance). Penalties for violation of rules can be assessed by the FCC, including additional description requirements.

If you have questions about any of this, contact Eric Bridges, ACB's director of advocacy and governmental affairs, at (202) 467-5081, or via e-mail, ebridges@acb.org.