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Video Description Deadline is July 1, 2012

WASHINGTON: TV will describe itself by this time next year, or at least in certain markets. The Federal Communications Commission today issued its Report and Order on video description, an audio service intended to assist blind people’s access to TV content. The top four network affiliates--NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC--in the 25 largest markets, plus pay TV systems with more than 50,000 subscribers, will have to implement video description by July 1, 2012.

Those operations will have to provide at least 50 hours per calendar quarter of video-described programming, in some combination of prime time and/or children’s content. Affected cable operators will have to do the same for the top five non-broadcast networks they carry. Repeats won’t count toward the total. Exemptions will be considered for near-live or live programming such as breaking news, and for economic hardship.

All TV stations, regardless of market size, must pass through network-provided video description feeds if they have the technical capability to do so. Same goes for cable operators of any size--they have to pass through video descriptions for both broadcast and non-broadcast nets that provide it if they are able. Stations that become affiliates in the top 25 markets will be required to comply with video description rules within three months of when their affiliation agreement is finalized.

Video description rules were approved by the FCC in 2000 and struck down in court two years later. They were resurrected last year in the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010,” for reinstatement on Oct. 8, 2011. The deadline for implementation is July 1, 2012--six months out from the date originally proposed in the commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. There is no specific language associated with the ruling.

The Consumer Electronic Association is developing a standard for receiver manufacturers for equipment selection and navigation of multiple audio streams, including video description. Broadcasters now frequently use a Secondary Audio Program for languages other than English. The standard, CEA-CEB-21, Recommended Practice for Selection and Presentation of DTV Audio, went to ballot earlier this year.

~ Deborah D. McAdams, Television Broadcast