FCC Considering Expanded Audio Description Requirements

by: David Titmus

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a proposal that would require 40 more broadcast markets to provide access to audio descriptions of video programming.

Many TV viewers who are blind or have low vision rely on audio description to experience television programming. In the same way captions provide a visual way to experience sound, audio description provides an audio means to experience video.

Audio Description logoThe service inserts audio-narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements, such as onscreen actions, characters, costumes, and text appearing in graphics in the video, into natural pauses between the program’s dialogue. The audio description track typically can be found on a secondary audio channel available on most television sets, and is accessible through the television’s menu.

Like captioning, the FCC determines the amount of audio description that must be aired on television.

The new proposal would expand audio description regulations in up to 10 additional designated market areas (DMAs) each year for a period of four years. Current FCC regulations require certain broadcast stations in the top 60 DMAs to provide access to audio described programming.

If approved, the new requirements would start on January 1, 2021.

Among other items, the proposal also states that the commission:

  • use updated Nielsen rankings in deciding which DMAs are subject to the new requirements.
  • determine whether the costs of implementing the audio description regulations in DMAs 61-100 are reasonable, and whether the FCC should take into account the current coronavirus pandemic in evaluating the costs of expanding the requirements.
  • update its terminology to use the term “audio description” rather than “video description” in accordance with a recent recommendation from the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee.

“The proposed expansion would help ensure that a greater number of individuals who are blind or visually impaired can be connected, informed, and entertained by television programming,” the FCC proposal stated.

The FCC is expected to discuss the proposed audio description regulations at its open commission meeting on Thursday, April 23, at 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be held electronically, and will be open to the public via live internet feed from the FCC’s web page at www.fcc.gov/live and on the FCC’s YouTube channel.

Current audio description rules require commercial television broadcast stations that are affiliated with one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and are located in the top 60 television markets to provide 50 hours of audio-described programming per calendar quarter during prime time or on children’s programming, as well as an additional 37.5 hours of video-described programming per calendar quarter at any time between 6 a.m. and midnight. The top five nonbroadcast networks currently subject to the audio description requirements are USA Network, HGTV, TBS, Discovery, and History.

Video programming distributors (cable and satellite companies) serving the top 60 markets are required to pass through the description track to viewers.

VITAC provides audio description services to national networks and video producers. All of our video description scripts are written by professionally trained scriptwriters — real, creative individuals, not automated software — with decades of industry experience. We chose our voice talent based on each video, and make sure the narration is consistent throughout a series. Our descriptions are mixed by a team of professional audio engineers and quality checked by both sighted and blind professionals for completeness and clarity.

Contact us for more details on our audio description offerings, or to speak with a representative.