FCC updates: Audio description, caption settings & CVAA report

By: Verbit Editorial

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced updates to its listing of the top five national non-broadcast networks subject to audio description requirements.

Effective July 1, 2024, the updated lineup of networks, determined by Nielsen ratings, is anticipated to include HGTV, Hallmark, TLC, TNT and TBS. The FCC revises this list of non-broadcast networks – encompassing cable and satellite channels – every three years to reflect shifts in viewership. Presently, the non-broadcast networks subject to audio description requirements are TLC, HGTV, Hallmark, History and TBS.

Audio description enhances accessibility for individuals who are blind or with low vision by incorporating narrated descriptions of a program’s critical visual elements into natural pauses within the program’s dialogue.

The FCC mandates that certain television broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors offer audio description for a portion of the video programming they broadcast. The regulations require commercial television broadcast stations affiliated with one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and currently situated in the top 100 television markets to provide 50 hours of audio-described programming per calendar quarter during prime time or on children’s programming, along with an additional 37.5 hours of described programming per calendar quarter at any time between 6 AM and midnight.

The FCC voted late last year to expand its audio description rules, mandating broadcasters in an additional 10 US television markets each year to provide description until all 210 markets are covered.

Caption setting accessibility

The FCC is seeking comment on an updated proposal regarding the accessibility of closed captioning display settings.

In 2015, the FCC proposed rules that would require manufacturers of covered apparatus and multichannel video programming distributors to make closed captioning display settings readily accessible to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

The commission sought to refresh those rules and, in 2023, solicited public feedback on a proposal by a coalition of consumer groups, including TDI, Inc., the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Those groups asked that the FCC consider four factors ─ proximity, discoverability, previewability and consistency and persistence ─ in determining whether closed captioning display settings are readily accessible.

As outlined by the group:

  • Proximity looks at the number of steps required to access closed captioning display settings as well as whether the settings are available on the same device as the video programming.
  • Discoverability takes into consideration whether it is simple and intuitive for viewers to find closed captioning display settings.
  • Previewability considers whether viewers can preview the appearance of closed captions on their screens while changing the closed captioning display settings.
  • Consistency and persistence involves whether access to the display settings is consistent across devices and platforms and across different applications on the same device and persistent over time.

This updated proposal is a continuation of the earlier one and includes answers to some of the comments made last year. In it, the group suggests all accessibility functions be made available “in one area of the settings…accessed via a means reasonably comparable to a button, key or icon.”  

It also asks for consumer testing requirements for cable service and navigation devices used to access programming; that cable operators commit to making closed caption display settings available by an API that an over-the-top application provider could utilize; and that cable companies commit to training requirements for customer care and support employees.

For more information, or to file a comment, click here.

Comment sought for CVAA biennial report

The FCC is soliciting public feedback on its 2024 CVAA biennial report to Congress.

The CVAA – the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act – aims to modernize federal law to enhance access to contemporary communications for individuals with disabilities. The CVAA ensures that accessibility laws established in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st-century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.

The FCC is seeking input on various topics, including:

  • Compliance with accessibility requirements for telecommunications and advanced communications services and equipment.
  • The accessibility of internet browsers integrated into mobile phones for individuals who are blind or have low vision.
  • Identification of accessibility barriers concerning new communications technologies and improvements in this area since the previous report, such as apps enabling individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities to make voice calls, or smart home devices incorporating voice and text messaging capabilities.
  • The extent to which manufacturers and service providers have involved people with disabilities and consumer disability organizations in their market research, product design, testing, pilot demonstrations, and product trials.

The FCC will accept comments until May 6, 2024. Click here for additional details and information on submitting comments.

The commission has been submitting biennial reports to Congress since 2012, with this report due by October 8, 2024.