FCC Increases Video Description Rules

WASHINGTON—Blind or visually impaired viewers will have more access to video described programming as a result of new rules from the FCC. The new rules are designed to ensure that more video described programming is available to those who rely on it as well as provide broadcast and non-broadcast TV networks flexibility in complying with the rules.

Video description, or audio description, allows people with limited vision to hear a description of on-screen activity while also following the dialogue. It is provided through the TV or set top box “secondary audio” feature. This is a key resource for the more than 7 million Americans who have a visual disability, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

As per the new rules, starting in July 2018 broadcasters and pay-TV providers carrying one of the top networks must provide 87.5 hours of described programming per calendar quarter; the current rules required 50 hours per quarter. The current 50 hours must be provided during prime-time or children’s programming, but the additional 37.5 hours can be provided during any time of day between 6 a.m. and midnight.

The networks that are currently covered by the rule are ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Disney Channel, History, TBS, TNT and USA. The list of top five non-broadcast networks will be updated in July 2018, so this is subject to change.