A woman holds a remote control seated in front of a TVLast month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a NBCUniversal petition for a limited waiver of video description requirements on behalf of USA Network (USA), owned by NBCUniversal.

Currently, the FCC requires 50 video described hours per quarter during prime time or children's programming, plus 37.5 hours per quarter between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. The networks covered by this requirement are:
- Broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. 
- Non-broadcast networks: USA, HGTV, TBS, Discovery and History. 
Repeats of a program can only be counted once on a given channel. Prime time TV is defined as the period from 8 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7 to 11 p.m. on Sunday, which means about 286 hours of prime time per quarter. 

The petition by NBCUniversal asks for a limited waiver of the video description rules "for the period ending on June 30, 2021, subject to the conditions that USA–(1) airs at least 1,000 hours of described programming each quarter without regard to repeats and (2) describes at least 75 percent of any newly produced, non-live programming that is aired between 6:00 a.m. and midnight per quarter."

NBCUniversal also asks the FCC to extend the waiver to "any other top-five ranked non-broadcast network that meet the proposed safe harbor conditions during the waiver period." NBCUniversal explains that USA does not regularly air scheduled children’s programming and builds their programming schedules on a combination of repeats and new programming. 

According to the information published by The Audio Description Project, USA has been the network that provides the highest amount of video description hours per quarter (about 1,795 hours during the first quarter of 2019), followed by TBS. However, the Audio Description project does not discriminate how many of those hours are repeats, and, USA present a lot of repeats as well as HGTV, History, TBS and TNT.

It is important to note that once a program is video described, the program can be shown with video description again and again without having to incur in additional expenses. Surprisingly, in many occasions, networks don't show the programs with video description even when they have access to it. 

Channels that base their programming on many repeats and don't offer children programming are limited on the way they can reach the number of hours required by the video description mandate. From that point of view, we understand why NBCUniversal is asking for a waiver. However, the FCC must be very cautious to keep a waiver from going in detriment of the progress already reached in favor of the audiences with visual impairment, especially if a waiver can be extended to other networks that may not be under the same conditions as USA.

 

Source:

- "Media Bureau Seeks Comment on USA Network’s Petition for Limited Waiver of Video Description Requirements." Federal Communications Commission, June 13-2019, https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-563A1.pdf

- "Video Description." Federal Communications Commission, https://www.fcc.gov/general/video-description 

- "How Much Description Are Networks Providing? (Updated June '19)." The Audio Description Project, http://acb.org/adp/tv.html#howmuchad

 

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