Video Description Category

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the American Cable Association Summit Retransmission Consent Panel, on March 14, 2012

Posted March 14, 2012

Scott R. Flick will speak during this session which takes place on March 14th from 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC.

This panel will address more than 300 independent, small to mid-sized communication providers and vendors serving rural America with cable and IP video and VOIP phone, and broadband internet service.

For more information, contact Rob Shema, 412-889-1657


FCC's Video Description Rules Have Been Officially Reinstated

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 9, 2011

By Paul A. Cicelski

Yesterday, the reinstatement of the FCC's "video description" rules finally became official with their publication in the Federal Register. It has been a long time coming, given that the rules were originally created by the FCC in 2000. In short, the reinstated rules require large-market broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks, and cable/satellite systems (MVPDs) with a large number of subscribers, to provide programming with video descriptions to their viewers.

"Video description" is defined by the FCC as the "insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements into natural pauses in the program's dialogue with the goal of making video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired." The FCC's original adoption of the rules in 2000 was challenged by the Motion Picture Association of America, among others, in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In its 2002 decision, the Court vacated the FCC's rules, holding that the FCC had "insufficient authority" to enact such rules.

In a very slow but deliberate response to the Court's decision, Congress gave the FCC explicit authority to adopt video description rules in the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (TCCVAA), which became law in October of 2010. As we reported previously here, the TCCVAA mandated that the FCC take a number of steps to ensure that new communications technologies are accessible to individuals with vision or hearing impairment, including reinstating the video description rules that had been vacated by the D.C. Circuit.

As required by Congress, the FCC issued an Order late last month announcing the reinstatement of its video description rules. According to the FCC, the most important aspects of its reinstated rules are:

  • Full-power affiliates of the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox networks located in the top 25 television markets must provide 50 hours of video-described prime time and/or children's programming each quarter;
  • MVPDs that operate systems with 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of video-described prime time and/or children's programming each quarter on each of the top five non-broadcast networks that they carry; and
  • All broadcast stations affiliated with any network (including non-commercial stations) and all MVPD systems must pass through video descriptions contained in programming that they distribute as long as they have the technical capability to do so. "Technical capability" means having all the necessary equipment except for items that would be of minimal cost.

The TCCVAA also requires the FCC to eventually expand the broadcast requirement to the 60 largest markets, and the Commission has designated July 1, 2015 as the date when ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates in markets 26-60 (based on the Nielsen market rankings as of January 1, 2015) will be required to provide video description on 50 hours of prime time and/or children's programming each quarter.

While the video description rules will technically become effective on October 8, 2011, the FCC indicates that broadcast stations and MVPDs will not be required to begin full compliance with the rules until July 1, 2012. Even though July 2012 sounds like the distant future now, broadcasters and MVPDs should acquaint themselves with the new rules as soon as possible. The FCC's Order reinstates dozens of rule provisions, some of which are highly technical and will require significant effort on the part of broadcasters and MVPDs to ensure that they can comply in time or obtain waivers where necessary.


Client Alert: FCC Proposes Rules to Reinstate and Expand Video Description Obligations for Television Stations

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted March 4, 2011

By Lauren Lynch Flick

On March 3, 2011, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") setting forth proposed rules to implement the video description requirements contained in the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 ("CVAA"), which became law in October 2010. The CVAA mandates that the FCC take a number of steps to ensure that new communications technologies are accessible to individuals with vision or hearing impairment, including reinstating the video description rules for television broadcasters that had been thrown out by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2002. The CVAA directs that the reinstated video description requirements apply to programming that is "transmitted for display in digital format" and authorizes the FCC to extend the video description requirements to stations and situations that were not covered by the prior rules. Accordingly, the FCC is using this NPRM to take a fresh look at the rules.

The Fifty Hour Minimum and Pass-Through Obligations

Video description, which is confusingly sometimes referred to as audio description, assists those who are blind or have impaired vision to view video programming by providing, during a pause in a program's dialogue, a verbal description of the key visual elements being shown.

As was the case under the FCC's former rules, all network-affiliated television stations (including non-commercial stations) must pass through video descriptions when the network provides them and the station has the technical capability to air them. For stations that have multiple broadcast streams, the FCC proposes to require the pass-through of video descriptions on each stream. The pass-through obligation also applies to multichannel video programming distributors ("MVPDs") that have the technical capability to pass through video-described programming on the channel containing the video-described programming. As noted below, the FCC is seeking comments on how it should determine whether a particular station or MVPD has the technical capability to pass through descriptions.

Continue reading "Client Alert: FCC Proposes Rules to Reinstate and Expand Video Description Obligations for Television Stations"


Legislative Trickle Becomes a Flood in Lame Duck Session

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 20, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Members of the Communications Industry that don't keep up with legal and political developments in Washington aren't in the industry for long. That truism has been particularly apt in the past few months, starting with the President's October signing of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 which, among other things, cleared the way for reinstatement of the FCC's former Video Description rules for television broadcasters, extended closed captioning of video programming to the Internet, and required the FCC to examine methods of increasing the accessibility of emergency information.

Normally, the weeks before a congressional election and the lame duck session afterwards are not a fertile environment for communications legislation, which has a tendency to be controversial because of the stakes involved (can you say "net neutrality"?). However, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which was spurred to passage by a congressional desire to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was merely the beginning.

The lame duck session has now generated several more pieces of successful legislation. Last week the President signed the first of these, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, which requires television stations to transmit at a consistent volume level (rather than make viewers lunge for their mute button at every commercial break). Congress followed the CALM Act with passage of the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, which is now awaiting the President's signature. This legislation prohibits manipulation of caller ID information with intent to defraud or harm others.

Apparently building steam, Congress proceeded to adopt the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 this past weekend, which reduces the extent of interference protection that full power radio stations will receive from Low Power FM stations, thus clearing the way for many more LPFM stations to be wedged into the FM radio band. This legislation is also now waiting for the President's signature.

So, is there something in the DC drinking water that has a lame duck Congress suddenly tackling communications issues as though "gridlock" was only a term from morning traffic reports? Maybe. But the truth is more complicated than that. With regard to the CALM Act, controversy about loud television commercials dates back decades. The FCC long ago considered adopting rules to prohibit such "variable volume" broadcasting, but concluded in 1984 that "due to the subjective nature of many of the factors that contribute to loudness, it would be virtually impossible to craft new regulations that would be effective." However, the transition to digital television has made it far more feasible to craft and enforce objective technical standards for loudness, lessening somewhat broadcasters' concerns that regulation would lead to free-roaming loudness police second-guessing a station's engineering practices.

Similarly, the LPFM interference issue has been simmering for a decade, with a succession of bills trying and failing to eliminate the requirement that LPFM stations protect full power stations' third-adjacent channels from interference. However, what finally put the Local Community Radio Act over the top was a legislative compromise that, among other things, assured full power broadcasters that LPFM will be categorized as a secondary service to full power stations. This means that full power broadcast stations can continue to modify their facilities to improve their audience reach without finding themselves blocked by the interference such a modification might cause local LPFM stations. In light of this and other modifications to the bill, broadcasters were able to offer their support for its adoption, finally breaking the longstanding impasse.

So what's next? Well, Congress remains keenly interested in communications issues, as evidenced by the lively discussion (and legislative threats) surrounding the FCC's upcoming net neutrality order. Broadcasters, however, are hoping that this lame duck session concludes quickly, leaving the Performance Rights Act and its goal of requiring broadcasters to pay royalties to the recording industry the subject of continued inter-industry negotiations, rather than the latest statutory mandate emerging from the twilight hours of the 111th Congress.


Client Alert: President Signs the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Creating Wide-Ranging Video Programming Accessibility Requirements Intended to Assist Those with Disabilities

Posted October 8, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

Last week, Congress passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (the "Act") which, among other things, reinstates the FCC's former Video Description rules for television broadcasters, extends closed captioning of video programming to the Internet, and requires the FCC to examine methods of increasing the accessibility of emergency information. The President signed the bill today, October 8, 2010.

The Act is designed to update the Communications Act to account for the many new technologies available in today's marketplace and to assure that they are accessible to persons with hearing or vision impairment. The Act outlines a decade-long timetable for the submission of various reports by a new advisory committee to the FCC, and then by the FCC to Congress, and the implementation of further regulations based on the findings of those reports. When fully implemented, the Act will require that specific amounts of digital television programming contain video descriptions, that certain video programming distributed via the Internet contain closed captions, and that consumer electronics devices contain features to promote accessibility and be hearing aid compatible. We have summarized the Act's requirements in three phases below.

Continue reading "Client Alert: President Signs the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Creating Wide-Ranging Video Programming Accessibility Requirements Intended to Assist Those with Disabilities"