Yesterday, the FCC released its Report and Order (available here) reinstating its “video description” rules, which require that certain broadcast stations and nonbroadcast networks provide audio narration of the action depicted in the video portion of the television programming.  The Commission originally adopted such rules back in 2000, but they were subsequently vacated by the D.C. Court of Appeals for lack of sufficient authority.  This past year, Congress rectified that lack of authority by enacting the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which was signed into law last October. DWT previously discussed the FCC’s rulemaking to reinstate the video description rules back in March (available here), and has now released a further advisory on the newly adopted rules available here.

In a nutshell, the rules require large-market broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks, and cable operators and DBS providers with more than 50,000 subscribers, to provide programming with audio-narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements, beginning mid-2012. While the FCC originally proposed to require full compliance by Jan. 1, 2012, the R&O pushes that date back six months, to July 1, 2012.  Highlights  of the reinstated video description rules are as follows:

  • Broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—located in the top 25 television markets as determined by Nielsen as of Jan. 1, 2011, must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime-time and/or children’s programming with video descriptions. 
  • The list of the top 25 television markets are those determined by Nielsen as of Jan. 1, 2011. To the extent a station in a top 25 market becomes newly affiliated with a top-four network, it must start providing video description in the same manner as current ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates in the top 25 markets, beginning no later than three months after finalizing the new affiliation agreement.
  • Going forward, the video description requirements will extend to major network broadcast affiliates in the top 60 markets beginning July 1, 2015. Rankings for the top 60 markets at that time will be based on Nielsen ratings as of Jan. 1, 2015. 


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UPDATE:  On March 23rd, the FCC granted a ten-day extension of the filing deadline.  Comments are now due April 28th, and Reply Comments are due by May 27th.

The FCC’s recent item proposing the adoption of video description rules was published in the Federal Register today setting the deadline for Comments in

Yesterday, the FCC initiated a rule making proceeding to reinstate its prior video description rules with certain modifications, as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (Act). The proposed rules would require large market broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks and most cable operators and DBS providers to provide programming with audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements beginning as soon as first quarter 2012.  Davis Wright Tremaine previously summarized the Act in our earlier advisory available here.

The Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) takes the first step toward restoring the video description regulations that the FCC previously adopted in 2000, but which were subsequently vacated by the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Now with explicit Congressional authorization, the FCC seeks to restore the video description rules by Oct. 8, 2011, as required by the Act. The FCC proposes a quick implementation, with the video description and pass-through rules beginning Jan. 1, 2012. The most significant elements of the reinstated video description rules are: 

  • Broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—located in the top 25 television markets must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime time and/or children’s programming with video descriptions.
  • The top five national nonbroadcast networks must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime time and/or children’s programming with video descriptions. The proposed rule would be applied to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), including cable operators and DBS providers with 50,000 or more subscribers, and presumably then be applied to the top five networks through affiliation agreements.
  • “Live” and “near live” programming is exempt from the rules.
  • In order to count toward the requirement, the programming must not have been aired previously with video descriptions, on that particular broadcast station or MVPD channel, more than once.
  • All broadcast stations, regardless of market size or affiliation, and all MVPDs, regardless of the number of subscribers they serve, must “pass through” video description when such descriptions are provided and when the station or program distributor has the technical capability to do so.

In addition to proposing to reinstate the rules previously adopted by the FCC, the item asks many practical implementation questions about refreshing market rankings, applicability of the rules to low power television, and what constitutes the “technical capability” to pass through video descriptions. In particular, the FCC seeks to refresh the list of the top 25 DMAs, as well as update the top five national nonbroadcast networks subject to the rule. In determining the top five nonbroadcast networks, the FCC proposes to exclude from the top five any nonbroadcast network that does not provide, on average, at least 50 hours per quarter of prime time non-exempt programming, i.e., programming that is not live or near-live. The NPRM specifically seeks comment from any network that believes it should be excluded from the top five covered networks because it does not offer enough pre-recorded prime time or children’s programming.


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Just a reminder that all Video Programming Distributors — which includes broadcast television stations —  must identify a contact person for closed captioning issues, both immediate issues and general complaints, and file that contact information with the FCC by March 22, 2010.  As we’ve discussed previously, new FCC closed captioning rules recently went into effect

On Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, two important new closed captioning rules were published in the Federal Register and went into effect. The new rules require immediate attention by video programming distributors — including broadcast television stations — to ensure that they respond promptly to viewer complaints regarding closed captioning issues, and to ensure that they timely file contact information with the FCC by March 22, 2010

As detailed in Davis Wright Tremaine’s November 2008 advisory and subsequent January 2009 advisory update, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Declaratory Ruling and Order in late 2008 that, among other things, imposed new requirements on video programming distributors with respect to fielding inquiries and complaints about closed captioning.  While the implementation of some aspects of those rules was delayed initially, with Friday’s publication in the Federal Register, two of those are now in effect.  The new rules, and the obligations they impose on video programming distributors, are discussed below. 


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The FCC’s has published in the Federal Register certain aspects of its November decision on closed captioning – most notably the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking if a broadcaster’s multicast streams should each count as a separate "channel" potentially exempt from closed captioning requirements if that channel doesn’t bring in more than $3 million

The FCC has adopted new procedures for the submission of complaints about the failure to adequately provide closed captioning of video programming carried on television stations and cable systems.  In the same order, the Commission issued clarifications about the impact of the digital transition on the obligations of stations and networks to caption programming,

A recent Washington Post article highlights a bill that was recently introduced in Congress suggesting that the FCC bring back their rules for audio descriptions of video programming – rules which were thrown out by the Courts several years ago as being beyond the scope of the Commission’s authority without explicit Congressional authorization.  But not only does this bill propose to give that missing Congressional approval to the FCC to re-introduce video description requirements for broadcast television, but it would authorize the FCC to introduce these rules, and closed-captioning requirements, on all video screens, including MP3 players, wireless devices and other video devices getting their programming through the Internet or other digital technologies.  With this bill, and various other proposals that have surfaced in recent months, it seems more and more likely that, as the Internet becomes even more important in the provision of broadcast-like programming in the future, the FCC may be called on by Congress to impose broadcast-like restrictions on that programming.

The full text of the recent bill, introduced by Congressman Markey, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, can be found here.  A summary of the bill is also available on Congressman Markey’s website.  The bill deals first with the accessibility of telephones and other communications devices, before setting out the provisions dealing with the captioning and video description requirements for broadcast and Internet video devices.  The bill first asks the FCC to study and report to Congress on the issues with captioning and video description on video devices, and then asks the FCC to adopt rules governing these matters, making video programming placed on the Internet that was either broadcast on a television stations or which is "comparable" to broadcast programming to be subject to these rules.  The idea is to make all TV-like programming subject to the rules, no matter what device it is viewed on.  Presumably, if adopted, the law would allow the FCC to make exemptions for certain types of programming (just as it currently allows exemptions from the current closed captioning requirements for small entities that have insufficient resources to caption a program).  The bill also requires that the FCC make sure that program guides and emergency information are available to those with hearing or visual difficulties, and that the navigation devices on video receivers can  be worked by those with disabilities.  So the FCC would have much to do to comply with this law, if adopted, and all within an 18 month period.


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