The FCC recently updated the list of national nonbroadcast networks that are subject to certain video description rules in an Order and Public Notice released March 6, 2015. Starting July 1, 2015, the top five national nonbroadcast networks subject to the requirements will be USA Network, Turner Network Television (TNT), TBS Network, Disney Channel, and newly added History, which replaces Nickelodeon. The FCC also reminded broadcaster stations affiliated with one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) that the requirement to provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter expands from network affiliates in the top 25 television markets to those located in the top 60 markets on July 1, 2015.
Under FCC rules, MVPD systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of video description – the insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements into the natural pauses between the program’s dialogue – per calendar quarter during prime time or children’s programming on each of the top five national nonbroadcast networks. The top five nonbroadcast networks upon which such video description must be provided are updated every three years. Based on the 2013 to 2014 ratings year, the FCC determined that USA Network, Turner Network Television (TNT), TBS Network, History, and Disney Channel will be considered the top five, starting July 1, 2015. Four of the five networks on the list – USA, TNT, TBS, and Disney – were previously subject to the video description rules. They are now joined by History, while Nickelodeon drops off the new top-five list.
ESPN would rank among the top five based on ratings, but once again was exempted by the FCC from the video description requirements because it does not provide 50 hours per quarter of programming that is not live or near-live. The network petitioned for and was granted an extension of its prior exemption, supporting its petition by explaining that in each of the six most recent quarters it has continued to air fewer than 50 hours of programming that would typically be subject to the rules.
In addition, the FCC included in its Public Notice a reminder to broadcast stations that the obligation to provide 50 hours of video description of prime time or children’s programming expands from the top 25 television markets to the top 60 markets later this year. On July 1, 2015, stations affiliated with the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) in the top 60 markets will be required to meet the 50-hour video description requirement.