The FCC today voted to move forward with Media Bureau recommendations to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to increase the amount of video-described programming for the benefit of the blind or visually impaired. The move is part of an ongoing update of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) that took effect in 2010. Congress
Video description makes video programming accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by enabling audio-narration to describe key visual elements of a television program during pauses in the dialogue. Through video description, individuals who are blind or visually impaired can independently enjoy and follow popular television shows.
In 2011, the commission reinstated rules that require some television broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to provide video description for a portion of the video programming that they offer to consumers on television. The current obligation to provide video description applies to TV broadcast stations that are affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC and are located in the top 60 television markets. The rules also currently apply to the top five non-broadcast networks on pay TV systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers.
Congress gave the commission authority in the CVAA to issue additional video description regulations if the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.
The FCC said that since their initial adoption, the video description rules have provided substantial benefits to persons who are blind or visually impaired by making television programming more accessible. The NPRM tentatively concludes that these substantial benefits outweigh the costs of the recommended additional requirements.
Specifically, the NPRM proposes to:
- Increase the required amount of video described programming on each included network carried by a covered broadcast station or MVPD from 50 hours per calendar quarter to 87.5 hours.
- Increase the number of networks subject to the video description rules from four broadcast and five non-broadcast networks to five broadcast and 10 non-broadcast networks.
- Adopt a no-backsliding rule, which would ensure that included networks remain subject to the requirements even if they fall out of the top five or top 10 ranking.
- Remove the threshold requirement that non-broadcast networks must reach 50% of pay TV households in order to be subject to the video description rules.
- Require that covered distributors provide dedicated customer service contacts who can answer questions about video description.
- Require that petitions for exemptions from the video description requirements and related filings be electronically filed with the commission.
The NPRM also asks for comment on timelines for implementation, as well as on any other changes to the video description rules that would help ensure blind and visually impaired consumers have access to television programming.
While all the commissioners voted to move forward with the NPRM, Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented on the increase in hours, saying that including the additional networks would exceed the limits set in the CVAA, something the FCC doesn’t have the authority to do.
Pai also objected to the NPRM’s language that that ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC remain in the top five even if future ratings put one of them below the top five.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said: “Today’s commission action furthers the goals of universal opportunity and cultural inclusiveness by helping individuals who are blind or visually impaired enjoy the same popular television programs as their friends, family, and others in their community.
“Today’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks to expand the availability of video described programming by 75%, and consistent with statute, the proposed increase from 50 hours per calendar year to 87.5 hours will make a big difference in the lives of individuals who are blind or visually impaired, allowing them to immerse themselves in the programming in a way that the audio dialogue system alone simply does not provide.
The NRPM is MB Docket No. 11-43.