FCC Proposes Expanding Cable Video Description

The FCC is proposing to expand its video description requirements to the top ten cable nets.

It is the FCC's latest step in implementing the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), something FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has made a priority in his efforts to promote universal communications access, in this case blind and sight-impaired viewers to the most popular video programming.

The item expands the number of hours required to be video described by the top five cable nets and top four broadcast nets from 50 to 87.5 hours per year, or a 75% increase, which is the maximum the statute allowed the FCC to bump it up at this time.

Under the rules, video description is only required of the top five nonbroadcast networks and the top four broadcast nets. But the item tentatively concludes that the requirement should be extended to the top 10 nonbroadcast networks as well, as well as the fifth largest broadcast network.

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai dissented in part, saying the FCC was not authorized to expand to 10 cable nets or five broadcast nets because that would be a much larger increase than the 75% increase in programming for the top five and four nets the law allows.

Pai also took issue with the proposal's requirement that ABC, CBS. NBC and Fox remain in the top five whether or not they fall out of the top five in the ratings. commissioner Michael O'Rielly agreed with Pai that the FCC was exceeding its authority by expanding the number of networks.

The item is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, so the industry will have a chance to comment on that proposed expansion before a final order is voted.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.