A Summary of The FCC’s New Video Description Rules

Posted by CLeininger on August 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm. Techy, Video Describers, Video Description

by Gerald Freda
CaptionMax President and Chief Operating Officer

On August 24, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission released a Report and Order to adopt rules requiring video description for certain television programming. The Commission had previously adopted rules requiring video description in 2000, but those rules were struck down by a federal court in 2002.

Then, in 2010, Congress enacted the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) and on October 08, 2010, President Obama signed CVAA giving the FCC the expressed authority to adopt video description rules.

As indicated in the Report and Order adopted on August 24, 2011, the directive reinstates the FCC’s video description rules on October 08, 2011 with modifications required by the CVAA. Based on the R&O here is what I have gleaned from the document.

Who does this effect?

- the top 4 national networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) located in the top 25 television markets and the top 5 non-broadcast networks (Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite, TBS, TNT, The Disney Channel & USA) must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming

What are the other significant requirements?

- the 50 hours-per-quarter benchmark is defined as programming that is video-described (a.k.a. audio-described) for its original broadcast and one re-air

- broadcasters may count programming even if the program has aired previously but only for the first airing and second re-air

- broadcasters can count programs that they obtain with video description but only for the first and second airings

When do these requirements go into effect?

- full compliance for the top 4 national networks and top 5 non broadcast networks will begin as of July 01, 2012

- no provision was adopted for program selection as that will be up to the broadcaster to select the program

- no quality standards were adopted at this time and may be revisited

- any program aired with video description must always include description if re-aired by the same broadcaster

What are some other requirements?

- breaking news, live programming, and near-live programming are exempt

- a program owner or provider of programming may petition the FCC for an exemption caused by undue burden with economic hardship

- there is no provision for video description to be an included as part of an Internet-streamed program even if the program contained video description during its original broadcast

- mobile broadcast compliance for video description of the same program will be delayed until October 08, 2013

- the top 5 non-broadcast networks, determined by The Nielson Company, will be updated on a three-year interval

In the next blog, we’ll provide a list of helpful definitions and terms to know when reading documents about video description.


  1. Does this legislation say how to turn audio descriptioning off if you are not blind? It is greatly distracting.

    Comment by Tina Rose | July 26, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

  2. Tina Rose,

    I fully agree. I hate it and would like to turn it off, too. If you find out please post it.

    Comment by betbull8 | October 5, 2012 @ 1:19 am

  3. This is fucking ridiculous. I can’t even enjoy watching the few shows that I like and get on my handful of channels with my antannae. Thanks to the assholes who created this “law”.

    Comment by Angela | February 27, 2013 @ 12:41 am

  4. Thank you for sharing your frustrations. Video Description can be distracting for those who don’t need it or aren’t used to it, but it’s a great service for blind/low vision viewers.

    It can easily be turned off using your television’s control panel. We have detailed instructions on our website:

    Hope this helps!

    Comment by Kate | February 27, 2013 @ 9:49 am

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