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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).

July 21, 2000
David Fiske: (202) 418-0513
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FCC Adopts Rules for Large Broadcast Stations and Program Distributors To Provide Video Description for Persons with Visual Disabilities; Also Adopts Rules to Enhance Accessibility of Emergency Information

Washington – July 21, 2000: The FCC today adopted video description rules to make television more accessible to persons with visual disabilities.

Video description involves the insertion into a TV program of narrated descriptions of settings and actions that are not otherwise reflected in the dialogue, such as the movement of a person in the scene. Video description is typically provided on TV through the use of the Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) channel, so that it is audible only when that channel is activated through a TV set or a VCR with SAP capability. Thus, viewers can control whether they hear the video description on the SAP channel.

In a Report and Order adopted today, the FCC ruled that commencing with the calendar quarter April to June 2002:

  • Broadcasters affiliated with the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC networks in the top 25 television markets (as determined by the Nielsen Designated Market Areas, or DMA, rankings) will be required to provide a minimum of 50 hours per calendar quarter (roughly four hours per week) of described prime time and/or children’s programming;

  • Mutichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), such as cable systems and satellite systems, with 50,000 or more subscribers will be required to provide video description for the same amount and type of programming on each of any of the top five national nonbroadcast networks they carry, as determined by national prime time audience share; and

  • Any broadcast station, regardless of market size, will be required to “pass through” any video description it receives from a programming provider if the broadcast station has the technical capability necessary to do so, and any MVPD will be required to “pass through” any video description it receives from a broadcast station or programming provider if the MVPD has the technical capability necessary to do so associated with the channel on which it distributes the programming with video description;

    The Commission said it expected the experience of the initial broadcast stations and MVPDs affected by the new video description rules to guide the industry, the public and the Commission on whether and when more broadcast stations and MVPDs, and more programming, should be phased in under the rules at a later date.

    The new rules will apply to analog television. The FCC said it expects ultimately to require DTV broadcasts to include video description, but that it would not consider that issue until there had been further experience with both digital broadcasting and video description.

    The Commission referred to estimates of up to 12 million persons with a vision difficulty that cannot be corrected with ordinary glasses or contact lenses, and noted that 9-14% of the population 75 years of age or older have visual disabilities. The Commission said that video description could also benefit secondary audiences of up to one and a half million children between the ages of 6 and 14 with learning disabilities by capturing their attention and enhancing their information processing skills.

    This Report and Order follows Commission review and study of video description for nearly five years, including three notices on the matter and two reports to Congress. The Commission said the record demonstrates the importance of video description to persons with visual disabilities and that the Commission has the statutory authority to adopt video description rules.

  • The FCC also ruled that any broadcast station or MVPD that provides local emergency information as part of a regularly scheduled newscast, or as part of a newscast that interrupts regularly scheduled programming, will be required to make the critical details of this information accessible to persons with visual disabilities in the affected local area. In addition, any broadcast station or MVPD that provides emergency information through a crawl or scroll will be required to accompany that information with an aural tone to alert persons with visual disabilities that the station or MVPD is providing this information. The rules for emergency information will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Action by the Commission July 21, 2000, Report & Order (FCC 00-258) Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness and Tristani, with Commissioners Furchtgott-Roth and Powell concurring in part and dissenting in part, and Commissioners Ness and Powell issuing separate statements.

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