Cable News Networks, ESPN Get FCC Audio Description Exemption

(Image credit: ESPN)

WASHINGTON—The FCC has officially approved requests from CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and ESPN to be exempt from audio description rules that are required of top national non-broadcast networks, based on the amount of non-live linear programming the networks offer per calendar quarter.

Audio description programming features audio that describes important video elements in a program for the visually impaired. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 mandates that networks with more than 50,000 or more subscribers provide 87.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter.

However, there is an exception available for networks that don’t air at least 50 hours per quarter of primetime programming that is not live or near-live.

TV Tech previously reported that Fox News and MSNBC, who were cited in the top five national non-broadcast networks, had filed requests to be exempt from this requirement. Subsequently, CNN and ESPN did the same, as they fell in the top 10 list of networks..

The FCC found that the networks did provide on average less than 50 hours per quarter of non-live or near-live primetime programming, as many of their programming consists of news or sports coverage.

A point of note was that ESPN actually did air more than 50 hours of non-live or near live programming in the first and second quarter of 2020. That, however, was because of the lack of live sports programming available as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the third quarter of 2020, after live sports began to return, ESPN was once again airing fewer than 50 hours of non-live programming.

Calling the cancellation of live sporting events as a result of the pandemic “unprecedented,” the FCC excluded the first and second quarter of 2020 in its consideration for granting ESPN’s exemption.

As a result of the exemption, the top five non-broadcast networks that will subject to the FCC’s audio description rules as of July 1, 2021, are TLC, HGTV, Hallmark, History and TBS.