TV Descriptions Return for Visually Impaired Consumers

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Large broadcast television and cable networks will have to provide audio descriptions of what is happening on screen during programs, according to rules reinstated by the Federal Communications Commission. The rules requiring so called “video description” apply to the four largest broadcast television networks, and cable networks with more than 50,000 subscribers.
     The rules were adopted by the FCC in 2000 for the benefit of blind or visually impaired consumers, but were struck down five months later by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the ground that the FCC lacked sufficient authority to issue the rules.
     However, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 granted the necessary authority to the FCC and directed it to reinstate the rules from 2000.
     Under the rules, the top four national broadcast networks in the top 25 television markets must provide 50 hours of video-described prime time and, or, children’s programming per calendar quarter.
     Cable or satellite systems with more than 50,000 subscribers must provide 50 hours of video-described programming for each of the five most popular channels they carry on their system.
     Only systems with the current technology to broadcast the narration must do so, and only if the technology is not already being used to provide other enhancements for consumers with impairments, such as subtitles.
     All cable systems, regardless of the number of subscribers, must “pass through” video description when it is provided, if it has the technical capability to do so.
     Any programming aired with description must always include it if re-aired on the same station or cable channel.
     Only the first and second showings of a video-described program will be counted towards the 50 hour requirement.
     AT&T and Verizon argued unsuccessfully that broadband providers and cable operators should only be required to pass-through video-described programming when it was made available by the original producer of the show because the added descriptions would be based on copyrighted material and, given the real-time nature of many broadcasts, it would be impossible for them to add the service on the fly without violating those copyrights.
     The FCC rejected the pass-through only obligation noting that broadcasters had ample opportunity to impress on show producers the need to provide video-described programming and that holding broadcasters responsible was the only way to ensure that enough programming was made available to meet the 50 hour requirements.
     Because broadcasters are not required to provide the service for every show they televise, the FCC said it believed they would not have to worry about the copyright issues because original producers were already including enough video-described programming to meet the 50 hour requirement. Thus broadcasters would not have to create the service for live or near-live shows.
     The rules go into effect Oct. 11, 2011.
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