FCC Update: Video: description rules in place

Video: description rules in place

On April 1, 2002, the Commission's video description rules for video programming became effective. Video description is the audio description of key visual elements in programming, inserted into natural pauses in the audio, to make television programming more accessible to the visually impaired.

Under rules adopted by the Commission in July 2000, television stations in top-25 markets that are affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox must provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter, either during prime time or on children's programming. Television broadcast stations that are affiliated or associated with any television network must pass through video descriptions when the network provides them, provided the station has the technical capability to pass the descriptions through (subject to some technical exceptions).

Multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) that served 50,000 or more subscribers as of Sept. 30, 2000, must provide 50 hours of video-described programming per calendar quarter during prime time or on children's programming, on each channel on which they carry one of the top five national non-broadcast networks. MVPDs of any size must pass through video description on each broadcast station and non-broadcast network they carry when the station or network provides video description (subject to some technical exceptions).

Once a broadcaster or MVPD has aired a particular program with video description, it is required to include video description with all subsequent airings of that program on that same station.

Petitions requesting exemptions from the video description rules can be submitted based on a claim that compliance would impose an undue burden. Factors in determining whether compliance would be an undue burden include the nature of the video description and the cost of providing it, the impact on the operation of the video programming distributor, the financial resources of the video programming distributor, and the type of operations of the video programming distributor.

These rules are currently being challenged in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Motion Picture Association of America, National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable & Telecommunications Association and National Federation of the Blind (petitioners) are attacking the rules on statutory and First Amendment grounds. The National Television Video Access Coalition, Metropolitan Washington Ear, WGBH Educational Foundation, American Council of the Blind, Blinded Veterans Association and the American Foundation for the Blind have intervened on the side of the FCC, which is defending the rules as necessary and properly promulgated.

In February, the petitioners asked both the Commission and the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. for a stay of the implementation of the rules pending the outcome of the appeal, but these requests were denied. Oral argument in the appeal before the D.C. Circuit is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2002.

FCC restructured

The changes to the Commission's organizational infrastructure, which have been in the works for several months, have at long last been formally announced. The FCC has renamed three bureaus and merged two into one, supposedly to make the Commission more effective, efficient and responsive. The new organization formally went into effect on March 25.

Perhaps the most noteworthy change is the merger of the Mass Media and Cable Services Bureaus into a new “Media Bureau.” The new Media Bureau will be organized as follows:

Media Bureau

Office of Broadcast Licensing Policy
Audio Services Division
Video Services Division
FM and TV Allocations

Policy Division

Industry Analysis Division

Engineering Division

Office of Communications and Industry Information

Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.


No biennial ownership reports are due in 2002. However, broadcasters who purchase a new station, or obtain an initial construction permit or license for a new facility, must still file a Form 323. These forms now may be filed electronically. On July 10, all commercial and non-commercial stations must place in their public files their quarterly issues/programs lists and quarterly children's programming reports (Forms 398) for the period April 1 - June 30. The issues/programs lists must contain a brief narrative describing the issues covered and the programs that provided the coverage, with information concerning the time, date, duration and title of each program.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com