While Fox News Channel and MSNBC are undoubtedly happy to be in a list of the top five cable nets by audience, when it comes to one FCC rule, not so much.
Fox News Channel and MSNBC have asked that the FCC exempt them from the list of top five non-broadcast networks. That is because that exempts them from the commission's audio description (formerly "video description) rule, which applies to cable and satellite operators carrying the top five cable channels.
The rules, which stem from the Twenty-First Century Video Communications Accessibility Act, require MVPDs with over 50,000 subs to provide 87.5 hours of audio described programming (narrated descriptions of important visual elements provided for the blind and visually impaired) per quarter of the top five national non-broadcast networks.
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The FCC reviews the list and for 2020, both Fox and MSNBC are on it.
But there is an exemption for networks that are almost entirely live or near live programming (those carrying less than 50 hours per quarter of non-live or near live prime time programing*) given the difficulty of doing audio described programming live and on the fly.
Both MSNBC and Fox News Channel were in the FCC's 2020 list of top five cable nets by audience and filed their exemption requests last week.
The FCC essentially solicits the exemptions, telling any network that thinks it should not trigger the MVPD requirement to make its case.
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Fox said about 20 hours per day of Fox News Channel are live or near live, and sometimes more when the news warrants, which means it does not meet the 50-hour per quarter threshold. MSNBC said it has only has about 42 hours of non-exempt programming per quarter.
Both networks received a similar exemption in 2018.
*The FCC defines audio described programming as “programming performed either simultaneously with, or recorded no more than 24 hours prior to, its first transmission.”
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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.