This News Release: Text | Word97
Statements: Chairman Kennard
FCC 99-353: HTML | Text | Word97 | Acrobat
Click Here for Example of Video Description


Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
TTY: 202/418-2555

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

November 18, 1999

News Media contact:
David Fiske: (202) 418-0500

FCC Proposes Major Market TV Broadcasters and Program Distributors Introduce Video Description for Persons with Visual Disabilities

Washington November 18: The FCC today proposed that commercial televisionbroadcasters in the top 25 television markets, and the largest national video programmingdistributors, introduce video descriptions in their transmissions to allow Americans with visualdisabilities to better follow the visual action in television programs.

Video description involves the insertion into a TV program of narrated descriptions ofsettings and actions that are not otherwise reflected in the dialogue, such as the movement of aperson in the scene. Video description is typically provided through the use of the SecondaryAudio Programming (SAP) channel so that it is audible only when that channel is activatedthrough a TV set or a VCR with SAP capability.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued today, the FCC asked for comment on aproposal that the initial video description rules should require that broadcasters affiliated with theABC, CBS, Fox and NBC networks in the top 25 television markets (as determined by theNielsen Designated Market Areas, DMA, rankings) provide a minimum of 50 hours per calendarquarter (roughly four hours per week) of described prime time and/or children's programming nolater than 18 months from the effective date of its video description rules. It also asked forcomment on requiring the larger video programming distributors to carry the describedprogramming of the broadcasters affiliated with the top 4 networks, and of nonbroadcastnetworks that reach 50% or more of MVPD households.

The Commission said video description would make television programming moreaccessible to the more than eight to twelve million persons with visual disabilities that cannot becorrected with ordinary glasses or contact lenses. It said that since television programming is theprincipal source of news and information and provides hours of entertainment every week toAmerican homes, visual description would eliminate the difficulties that persons with visualdisabilities have with following the visual action in this programming.

The Commission said that video description could also benefit the one and a half millionchildren between the ages of 6 and 14 with learning disabilities by capturing their attention andenhancing their information processing skills. It also said there could be a secondary audience forpersons without disabilities who are doing several things at once, who need to attend tosomething during a program, or who leave the room during a program.

Today's rulemaking proposal follows two earlier FCC studies of video description: a July1996 report following a Notice of Inquiry on closed captioning and video description; and aJanuary 1998 report that was included in the FCC's annual report to Congress on competition inthe market for video programming.

The Commission said that the proposed video description rules are generally modeledafter existing closed captioning rules, but that because video description technology is not asdeveloped as closed captioning technology, it would proceed incrementally to implement videodescription requirements so as to not impose a significant burden on video programmingdistributors.

In the NPRM, the Commission noted that public television stations have been airing videodescription programming for more than a decade, and said that the WGBH Descriptive VideoService has described more than 1600 PBS programs, including daily, weekly and specialprogramming. However, the Commission said that since few commercial broadcasters or cablesystems have provided described programming, less than 1% of all television programmingcontains video description.

In the NPRM, the Commission said that it is proposing to initially limit video descriptionrules to analog broadcasters, but that it intended to apply the requirements to digital broadcastersin the future. It said that the flexibility inherent in digital technology may make the provision ofvideo description even easier and less costly. However, it said that the conversion from analog todigital television broadcasting is currently in transition and that it did not wish to wait for thedigital transition to be complete before adopting video description requirements.

The Commission also asked for comment on eventually applying video description rules toall video programming distributors, including TV broadcast stations, cable operators, directbroadcast satellite operators, home satellite dish providers, open video system operators, satellitemaster antenna television operators, and wireless cable operators using channels in themultichannel multipoint distribution service. It said this could enhance the availability of theservice and provide a level playing field among distributors.

The Commission reiterated its goal of maximizing video description benefits to persons withvisual disabilities without imposing an undue burden, and it asked for comments on the costs ofvideo description, including the cost of upgrading equipment.

The Commission noted that the Secondary Audio Channel is used in some markets for Spanishand other foreign language audio, and it asked for comments on whether this could conflict withthe implementation of video description, and if so, how to prevent or minimize the problem. TheCommission also asked for comments on how emergency public safety messages, that scrollacross the TV screen, could be accessible to persons with visual disabilities. The Commission alsoasked for comment on the nature and scope of its authority over video description.

Action by the Commission November 18, 1999, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC99-353) Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani.

MM Docket No. 99-339

- FCC -

Mass Media Bureau Contact: Eric Bash (202) 418-2130; TTY (202) 418-1169