In an Order released Friday, The FCC gave TV broadcasters five more years to convert non-textual emergency information delivered to audiences outside of news programs into speech that is broadcast on station’s Secondary Audio Programming (“SAP”) channels, usually used for Spanish and other non-English translations of television programs. Broadcasters, as we have written before

In 2015, TV broadcasters were required to convert textual warnings about emergency events that are broadcast outside of news programs  (e.g. weather alerts that are displayed as textual crawls during entertainment programming) into audio, and to transmit that audio on the station’s SAP channel. The deadline for that requirement was extended, and then paired back

With the recent hurricanes and last night’s tragedy in Las Vegas, the FCC Public Notice issued last week reminding all video programmers of the importance of making emergency information accessible to all viewers seems very timely. The public notice serves as a good refresher on all of the obligations of video programmers designed to make emergency information available to members of the viewing audience who may have auditory or visual impairments that may make this information harder to receive. As the FCC also reminds readers of its notice of the ways in which to file complaints against video programming distributors who do not follow the rules, TV broadcasters need to be extremely sensitive to all of these requirements.

What are these obligations? These are some of the obligations highlighted by the FCC’s reminder:

  • For persons who are visually impaired, rules require that emergency information that is visually provided in a newscast also be aurally described in the main audio channel of the station.
  • When emergency information is provided outside of a newscast (e.g. in a crawl during entertainment programming), that information must be accompanied by an aural tone and then an audio version of the emergency information must be broadcast on a secondary audio channel (SAP channel) of a TV station at least twice. See our articles here, here and here about this obligation.
  • For persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Commission requires that emergency information provided in the audio portion of a broadcast also be presented visually, through methods including captioning, crawls or scrolls that do not block any emergency information provided through other visual means (like other captions or crawls).
  • For stations that are permitted to use electronic newsroom technique (ENT) captions, where ENT does not provide captions for breaking news and emergency alerts, stations must make emergency information available through some other visual means. See our post here on this obligation.
  • The FCC suggests, but does not require, that stations make emergency information available through multiple means (maps, charts, and other visual information) and in plain language, so that all viewers can understand the nature of any emergency.


Continue Reading FCC Reminder to Video Programming Distributors – Including Broadcasters – on Accessibility Obligations

The FCC released an order last week giving TV stations an additional 18 months to comply with a requirement that emergency information conveyed to the TV audience during non-news programming in a visual or graphical manner (e.g. on-screen weather maps during entertainment programming) be converted to audio that is broadcast on the TV station’s SAP

With the approach of Hurricane Matthew to the coast of the southeast United States, emergency communications is a high priority for all media outlets. Emergency communications have also been a hot issue at the FCC – with 3 notices in the last week dealing with this important subject. One notice was to provide emergency contact information at the FCC which will be available 24 hours a day during the Hurricane for any assistance that the agency can provide. A second notice was a reminder of how broadcasters (particularly television broadcasters) need to make emergency information accessible. Information that is provided through spoken word must also be made available visually to the hearing impaired, and information that is presented visually must be provided aurally to those who are blind. The third notice asks for comments on the possible extension of time for the waiver of the obligation that TV broadcasters convert certain emergency information presented visually on-screen into audio on a SAP channel for those that are blind or otherwise visually impaired.

The 24-hour hotline (FCC information here) is a service that the FCC instituted many years ago during similar emergencies to help any licensed communications service to the extent possible. In some cases, the response may simply be an immediate response to a request for a temporary authorization to maintain service during the emergency. During Hurricane Katrina, I was asked by a client to talk to people manning the FCC’s emergency number about helping get a fuel truck bringing gasoline to power auxiliary generators at broadcast stations past FEMA roadblocks keeping traffic out of the worst-hit area. I don’t know if the call to the FCC did it, but the truck did get the authorization to enter the restricted area and the station was able to keep operating. So use this number if needed during the emergency.
Continue Reading Emergency Communications Updates: FCC Hotline for Hurricane Matthew, Reminder on Accessibility of Emergency Warnings, and Possible Extension for Audio Conversion of Certain Visual Emergency Information

Last week was a busy one for the FCC, with decisions or proposals on a number of issues that can affect broadcasters, including changes to the EAS rules and proposals for the expansion of video description – the requirements that TV stations carry a certain amount of programming that is accompanied by audio descriptions to explain the visual action to TV station viewers who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. Today, we’ll look at the proposals for expanding the required amount of “video description” required by TV stations.

Under current FCC rules, television stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and which are located in the Top 60 US TV markets must carry a minimum of 50 hours of video programming per quarter that is described by accompanying audio descriptions of the on-air visual action. These descriptions are usually broadcast on the station’s secondary audio programming (“SAP”) channel, often used for foreign language translations of programming. These SAP channels are also used for the required audio transmission of video alert warnings that occur outside of news programs (see our article about that requirement for emergency information, like video crawls during entertainment programming, to be translated into audio and broadcast on these SAP channels, here and here). Qualifying programming must either be in prime time or programming addressed to children. The rules also require that TV stations in all markets pass through network programming with such audio descriptions if those stations are technically able to do so. The FCC notes that, given the requirement for emergency information on SAP channels, all TV stations should now have that ability to pass through network programming with audio description of the video programming. The FCC now proposes to further expand the obligations of TV broadcasters to do audio descriptions of video programming that they air.
Continue Reading FCC Proposes Expansion of Requirements for TV Stations and MVPDs to Provide Audio Description of Video Programming

December is one of those months when all commercial broadcasters have at least one FCC deadline, and there are also many other filing dates of which many broadcasters need to take note.  For all commercial broadcasters, Biennial Ownership Reports are due on December 2.  Hopefully, most broadcasters have already completed this filing obligation, as FCC electronic filing systems have been known to slow as a major deadline like this comes closer.  See our article here for more on the Biennial Ownership filing requirement that applies to all commercial broadcast stations.

Noncommercial stations are not yet subject to the uniform Biennial Ownership Report deadline (though the FCC has proposed that happen in the future, see our article here, a proceeding in which a decision could come soon).  But many noncommercial stations do have ownership report deadlines on December 1, as noncommercial reports continue to be due every two years, on even anniversaries of the filing of their license renewal applications.  Noncommercial Television Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports by that date.  Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont also have the same deadline for their Biennial Ownership Reports. 
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Ownership and EEO Reports, Retransmission Consent and Foreign Ownership Rulemaking Comments, Incentive Auction and Accessibility Obligations

TV stations have in the past few years been hit with many requirements for making their programming – especially emergency information – accessible to all people within their service areas. Two deadlines loom in the very short term that stations need to remember – the requirements for converting text based emergency information aired on their stations outside of news and EAS alerts (usually crawls dealing with issues such as severe weather alerts) into speech for airing on their SAP channels, and the requirement that any clips transmitted through IP technology (e.g. to computers or through apps) must contain captions if those clips were taken from programming that was broadcast with captions.

Some trade press reports have indicated that some TV stations are still having issues with the requirement that stations take emergency information broadcast outside of news programming and not in EAS alerts, and convert that information to speech to be broadcast on the station’s SAP channel (in some cases requiring that the station activate a SAP channel if they did not already have one).  This rule is meant to cover information like weather alerts typically carried in crawls during entertainment programs.  The rule was supposed to take effect in May, but was extended until November 30 when it appeared that most TV stations were not ready to meet the original deadline.  We wrote about the requirements and the extension here and here. The extension also put on hold obligations to include school closing alerts on the SAP channel when it became clear that the time necessary to broadcast those alert on the SAP channel (and to do it twice, as required by the rules for the audio alerts on the SAP channels) would likely overwhelm the ability to carry any other information.  The extension order also extended until November 2016 the obligation to aurally describe on the SAP channel any non-textual, graphical information conveyed by the station outside of news programs (e.g. weather radar images).  But the general obligation to convert text to speech still goes into effect at the end of next month – so stations need to be ready.
Continue Reading New Accessibility Compliance Deadlines for TV Stations Coming Very Soon

The FCC yesterday granted extensions requested by the National Association of Broadcasters and by the American Cable Association of the deadlines for implementation of obligations to convert emergency information conveyed in text (usually in on-screen crawls) on television broadcasts into audio to be broadcast on a TV station’s SAP channel (the second audio programming channel usually used for second-language program audio, e.g. a Spanish audio version of English-language programming). This “Audible Crawl Rule” was set to become effective yesterday. The extension of the basic requirement for TV broadcasters to convert the text of crawls containing emergency announcements to speech has been postponed six months, until November 30. Certain related obligations (to provide audio descriptions of non-textual information like weather radar maps, and to include school closing information among the emergency information provided under the Audio Crawl Rule) have been extended further into the future.

The NAB’s request for extension (about which we wrote here) was based on three different issues. The first was the NAB’s finding that the equipment to generate speech from textual crawls was not yet widely available in the marketplace, so most TV stations simply did not have the time to install the equipment to meet the FCC’s requirement. Groups representing the visually-impaired community expressed concern with the delays, but nevertheless agreed to the six month extension granted by the FCC yesterday.
Continue Reading FCC Extends Deadline for TV Stations to Convert Emergency Information in Textual Crawls to Audio on SAP Channels