FCC moves to expand video description requirements

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Video description may become more widely available

The Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making [PDF] on March 31, regarding an expansion of existing video description requirements that make television programming accessible to people with visual disabilities.

“Video description enables those who are blind or visually impaired to independently enjoy and follow popular television programs and better participate in the shared cultural experience that television offers,” FCC Commissioner Kevin Wheeler said in a statement. “Popular television programs, such as Modern Family, NCIS, New Girl, Chicago Fire, Suits, and the live production of ‘The Wiz’ have already utilized video description to rave reviews.

“Many blind and visually impaired consumers have written the Commission calling for the expansion of video description. ….The proposals that we make today would expand these benefits to more programming and a greater audience, at what we project will be a very reasonable cost to programmers.”

The current video description rule applies to TV broadcast stations affiliated with “ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC and are located in the top 60 television markets,” as well as the “top five non-broadcast networks on pay-TV systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers.”

Among the updated requirements in the proposal, covered networks would have to increase their number of hours of video-described programming by 75 percent, from 50 hours to 87.5 hours per calendar quarters.

The number of networks subject to the video description rules would increase from four broadcast and five non-broadcast networks, to five broadcast and 10 non-broadcast networks.

“The Notice seeks comment on whether the Commission’s rules should include even more networks, and if we should apply these requirements to Video-on-Demand programming. These questions remind us that our work when it comes to making programming more accessible will never be complete and, thankfully, the (Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010) statute gives the Commission the authority to continually revisit whether we are satisfactorily meeting the communications needs of those who would benefit from video description.”