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FCC to Hill: Video Description Shows 'Significant Progress'

Based on input from broadcasters and cable operators, the FCC is telling Congress that there has been "significant progress" in the availability of video-described content, though it does not have any numbers to back that up. The FCC also signaled it could consider expanding the video-description requirement beyond the top 60 TV markets where it is currently mandated.

That came in a report by the FCC to Congress this week, the second such report mandated by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).

Video description helps the blind and sight-impaired access the nonverbal portions of video, describing scenery or action.

The FCC rules currently "require local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC located in the top 60 TV markets to provide 87.5 hours per calendar quarter (about 7 hours per week) of video-described programming, of which 50 hours must be primetime and/or children's programming and 37.5 hours may be any type of programming shown between 6 a.m. and midnight."

"The record indicates that there has been significant progress in the variety and amount of video-described programming available," the FCC told the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, to whom it was required by CVAA to report. "While video description originally would have been found largely on prerecorded scripted programming, the record reflects that today it is also available on some live programming, including awards shows, Presidential Inauguration coverage, and Olympic events.

"Similarly, the record indicates that the amount of video-described programming often goes beyond what is required by Commission rules and that video description is available on certain children’s programming. The record also reflects consumer demand for more video-described programming and that consumers would benefit from a continued increase in the types and amount of such programming."

The FCC pointed to NCTA reports to the effect that video descriptions were available on a "wide variety" of programs and in different dayparts as described shows in prime time are re-aired in other dayparts. While NCTA did not provide numbers for the amount of described programming on cable, it said it had "grown substantially" and "far exceeds" the required minimum. NCTA also told the FCC that focusing on an hour count ignored the “sizable increase in the amount and diversity of programming with video description that customers can enjoy on their cable systems” that isn't counted under the rules.

NCTA in August asked the FCC to give cable operators some temporary — or, better yet, permanent — slack when it comes to video-description rules for networks whose business model includes extended plays of show repeats.

The National Association of Broadcasters also told the FCC that all the networks subject to the rules were providing more than the mandated number or hours, and in some cases "substantially more," including: "ABC: The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Speechless, black-ish, America’s Funniest Home Videos, live awards and game shows, live Presidential Inauguration coverage, and additional children’s programming. CBS: NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans, Lucky Dog, The Inspectors, Hope in the Wild, additional prime-time and children’s programming. Fox: Empire, Family Guy, The Gifted, Gotham, Lethal Weapon, The Masked Singer, The Passage, The Resident, The Simpsons, Star, Beat Shazam, and MasterChef. NBC: New Amsterdam, Chicago Fire, Will & Grace, Superstore, A.P. Bio, The Wiz Live!, Hairspray Live!, the 2018 Winter Olympics and additional children’s programming."

As to whether, as some including the American Council of the Blind, have advocated, the FCC should extend the video description mandate to more markets, the FCC seemed open to the idea, but would need more cost-benefit data.

"The record indicates that consumers seek expansion of the video description requirements to DMAs (Nielsen Designated Market Areas) outside the top 60," the FCC told Congress, "and it provides no basis for concluding that consumers would benefit less from video description in those markets than in other areas."

But, the FCC said, the record does not include "detailed or conclusive information as to whether the costs of such an expansion would be reasonable." Should the Commission seek to expand the video description requirements to DMAs outside the top 60, it will need to utilize the information contained in this Second Report, and any further information available to it at the time, to determine “the costs of implementing the video description."

The report concludes that most VOD programming is still not described, but said there may be "technical limitations" that explain that dearth, as well as for not pushing to put IP-delivered video under the same mandate as broadcasting and MVPDs.