The FCC currently requires what they now call “video description” by commercial television broadcast stations that are affiliated with one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and located in the top 60 television markets.  Video description is also required of MVPDs with 50,000 or more subscribers passing through content of the Top 5 cable networks.  TV stations subject to the rules are required to provide on a subchannel audio descriptions of at least 50 hours of video programming per calendar quarter during prime time or on children’s programming, as well as an additional 37.5 hours of video-described programming per calendar quarter at any time between 6 a.m. and midnight.  These descriptions are provided by the networks and passed through by the local station affiliates to allow the blind and visually impaired people to follow the action in video programming on their TVs.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted in April, the FCC proposes to expand the video description requirements to network-affiliated stations in television markets 61 through 100 starting January 1, 2021, followed by an additional 10 TV markets each year for the next four years.  This proposal was just published in the Federal Register, setting a deadline for the filing of comments of June 22, 2020, with reply comments due by July 6, 2020.

In the NPRM, the FCC proposes additional actions and asks questions including the following:

  • Proposes that the Commission determine in 2023 whether to continue expanding to an additional 10 DMAs per year, subject to the reasonableness of associated costs.
  • Proposes that, in determining which DMAs are subject to the video description requirements, the FCC should use an updated, current Nielsen determination.
  • Seeks comment on the costs and burdens associated with this expansion and whether it should account for the current coronavirus pandemic in evaluating the reasonableness of those costs.
  • Seeks comments on the standards to be used for evaluating requests for waivers of the requirements for video description by those subject to the requirements of the rules.
  • Proposes to begin using the phrase “audio description” instead of “video description” in line with a recent recommendation from the Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee.

Interested parties should look at the details of the NPRM and decide if they want to file their comments by the deadlines established in this week’s Federal Register publication.