Affiliates of the Big Four broadcast networks in the top 25 markets and five cable networks — USA, Disney Channel, TNT, TBS and Nickelodeon — must provide 50 hours a week of voiceovers describing scenes, costumes, action and other “key visual elements” in programs. The rules take affect Oct. 8, but the stations and networks have until July 1, 2012 to be in full compliance.
As mandated by law, the FCC is promulgating new rules requiring Big Four affiliates in the top 25 markets to provide video descriptions for the blind on 50 hours of primetime or children’s programming each quarter — about four hours a week.
Cable systems with more than 50,000 subscribers must also provide 50 hours of descriptions on each of the five “most popular” cable networks without a lot of “live or near-live” programming, according to the rules, which were adopted yesterday by a unanimous vote of the four FCC commissioners, but not released until just before noon ET today.
For the sake of blind viewers, video descriptions are voiceovers that describe scenes, costumes, action and other “key visual elements” in programs during natural pauses in the dialog. The voiceovers are audible only to those who choose to listen to sound tracks containing them.
Based on ratings for the year beginning October 2009, the rules specify USA, Disney Channel, TNT, TBS and Nickelodeon as the networks that must be offered with descriptions. The rules say the list of popular networks must be updated every three years.
The rules also require that all TV stations and cable systems pass through any and all video descriptions provided by networks if they have the technical ability to do so.
The new rules go into effect on Oct. 8, but affected stations and cable systems have until July 1, 2012, to come into “full compliance.”
In adopting the rules, the FCC is carrying out provisions of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which was enacted by Congress last year.
That law, in turned, resurrected rules that were adopted by the FCC in 2000, but struck down by a federal appeals court that found that the FCC had overstepped its authority.
For purposes of descriptions, children’s programming is defined as programming directed to children 16 and under.
The rules extend the video-description requirement to Big Four affiliates in the 60 largest markets beginning on July 1, 2015.
“In providing video description, America’s blind community will not only be able to enjoy the entertainment that video content providers offer, but they will also be part of the conversations around it,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement.
“I want to stress this, as I can imagine how left out a visually-impaired child feels when his or her classmates are discussing what happened on a popular show the night before, and to not be a part of that conversation or be able to follow along,” she added.
“The same is true for blind adults, for whom the proverbial water cooler chats about TV shows hold little meaning or enjoyment. This item will assist those individuals in getting even closer to the mainstream when it comes to popular culture, and we are a better and more complete nation for it.”
Commissioner Michael Copps said that he would have preferred that the requirements kick in sooner.