FCC Initiates Rule Making to Reinstate Video Description Regulations


On March 3, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (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.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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