Effective December 30, 2020, the FCC’s audio description rules will apply to new markets beyond the top 60. In a Report and Order adopted this past October, the Commission revised the audio description rules to require phased-in compliance, over the next four years, in 10 new designated market areas (“DMAs”) per year. By the end of the four-year period, the audio description rules will apply to the top 100 DMAs.
Beginning on January 1, 2021, the Commission will also apply 2020 Nielsen market data to all market determinations, including the original top 60 markets. The expansion timeline for new markets will be as follows:
January 1, 2021 – DMAs 61-70
January 1, 2022 – DMAs 71-80
January 1, 2023 – DMAs 81-90
January 1, 2024 – DMAs 91-100
The audio description rules require accessibility of video programming for the blind or visually impaired through “[t]he insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements into natural pauses between the program’s dialogue.” Specifically, the 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 a top 60 television market to provide 50 hours of audio-described programming per calendar quarter during prime time or on children’s programming, and an additional 37.5 hours of audio-described programming per calendar quarter at any time between 6 a.m. and midnight. Additionally, multi-channel video programming distributor (MVPD) systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of audio description per calendar quarter during prime time or on children’s programming, as well as an additional 37.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter at any time between 6 a.m. and midnight, on each of the top five national non-broadcast networks (currently, USA Network, HGTV, TBS, Discovery, and History) that they carry on their systems.
Broadcasters and MVPDs can seek full or partial relief from the audio description requirements by showing that compliance would be economically burdensome. They can also seek a general waiver of the requirements for reasons other than economic burden.
In 2023, the Commission plans to revisit application of the audio description rules to determine whether to continue phase-in of the audio description rules to an additional 10 DMAs per year.
If you would like more information about the audio description rules, please contact any attorney in our office.