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Comcast, NBC Add Video Descriptions to 'The Wiz Live!'

Billing it as a first for a live entertainment broadcast show in the U.S., Comcast said it will include video descriptions with NBC’s production of The Wiz Live!, an element that will make the show accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

During NBC’s live broadcast, set to start Thursday, Dec. 3 (also the International Day of Persons with Disabilities) at 8 p.m. ET, the video description component will provide a narration track that’s included between the natural pauses in dialogue that describes visual elements of show, such as facial expressions, settings, information about costumes, and stage direction (this brief video offers a more thorough explanation).

Comcast and NBC, which are partnering with Descriptive Video Works, said the described broadcast of The Wiz Live! is a national pilot program that will be available wherever SAP (secondary audio program) feeds are available.

“Comcast’s commitment to include video description with the performance of The Wiz Live! is ground-breaking," said Kim Charlson, president of The American Council of the Blind (ACB). "The path to accessibility is a journey of inclusion of all audiences. Just like the yellow brick road is the path to the heartfelt wishes of Dorothy and her friends, the blindness community is very happy to travel on this new path with Comcast and NBC."

The effort follows other features and technologies Comcast has launched to help make its video service more accessible to people with disabilities, including a “talking guide” for its X1 platform, a voice-enabled TV menu and interface, and a voice-controlled remote control.

"The combination of accessible content and technology is powerful," said Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s vice president of accessibility, who noted in this blog post that live description is usually reserved for events like Inaugural Addresses.  "We’re working hard every day to make a positive impact in the lives of millions of customers by making our products and services more accessible and opening new doors to independence for people with disabilities. The broadcast of The Wiz Live! represents a real milestone in how people with visual impairments experience television."

"Earlier this year, I attended a theater production of The Wiz and without description, found it very difficult to follow the characters and action of the play," said Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. "This nationally described television broadcast will not only be a godsend to people with vision loss, but also to those who describe action to people with vision loss, and the general public, who will learn about the importance of audio description."