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FCC Issues New Video Description Report and Order

WASHINGTON: As part of the implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, the Federal Communications Commission has announced its Report and Order on Video Description which is directed at providing audio narration about visual programming elements in order to make television programming more accessible by blind or visually handicapped individuals. The Report and Order was released on Aug. 25 and sets a July 1, 2012 deadline for compliance.

“The blind and visually impaired community has been waiting for action on video description for a long time,” said FCC Commissioner, Michael Copps. “My hope going forward is that the work product of those providing this important service is strong and serves the disabilities community in the best possible manner.”

The NAB lauded the issuance of the new Report and Order with the issuance of the following statement:

“NAB applauds the leadership of Chairman Genachowski in implementing the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. We appreciate the efforts of the Chairman, his fellow Commissioners and the FCC Staff to craft rules that work for all the interested parties. Broadcasters are committed to meeting the programming needs of all members of their local communities. We look forward to working with the agency on a practical approach that ensures this service to the visually impaired community is realized on a timely and reasonable basis.”

The new Report and Order is an outgrowth of video description rules originally adopted by the FCC in 2000. That provision for additional service to for the blind and visually impaired was sidetracked by a court challenge that vacated the initial rules on the basis of insufficient authority by the Commission to issue such an order. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 directed the FCC to reinstate a modified version of its original rules and requirements.

The Report and Order requires that large-market television affiliates of the four major networks, as well as multichannel video programming distributor systems (MVPDs) with more than 50,000 subscribers, must provide video description information. Broadcasters affected are mandated to provide 50 hours of video description for prime-time or children’s programs per calendar quarter, and MVPDs must provide “the same number of hours on each of the five most popular nonbroadcast networks.” The Report and Order’s “most popular” list excludes ESPN and Fox News programming that is recorded less than 24 hours before it is aired. The Order further requires that broadcasters and MVPDs to pass through, with certain exceptions, any video description information provided with programs they carry.

The formal reinstatement of the video description rules was set for Oct. 8, 2011, with full compliance mandated in mid-2012.

Commissioner Copps noted that some broadcasters and MVPDs observed video description rules even after the court challenge and praised their efforts.

“There are some broadcasters and cable networks which continued to provide video description even after the courts vacated the FCC’s previous rules in 2002 and I salute CBS, Fox, and TNT for their strong commitment to their consumers with disabilities.”