US communications regulator reports on audio description

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Friday, 11 July 2014 17:04pm

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a report on the current state of audio description on broadcast television and television delivered over the internet.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 gave the FCC the power to reinstate audio description quotas for television, which it did in 2011. Currently, commercial stations affiliated with the top four networks in the top 25 markets must provide 50 hours of audio described prime time or children’s programs per quarter. In its Report to Congress on Video Description (note, ‘video description’ is an alternative term for audio description in the US), the FCC looks at the status, benefits and costs of the service.

The report’s findings, and the FCC’s responses to them, include the following.

  • Consumers overwhelmingly believe that the levels of audio description on television are too low. The FCC believes that some of these concerns will be alleviated when the audio description obligations are extended to more stations 2015, while it has the power to increase the quota two years after that.
  • Consumers have complained about a lack of information regarding which programs are audio described. The FCC has urged industry to work more closely with program guide developers to rectify this.
  • Consumers have expressed frustration with the quality of customer support services for audio description. The FCC has called for better training and support for these services.Consumers have identified problems with accessing audio description on electronic devices. The FCC notes that rules to make this easier will come into effect in 2016. In the meantime, it has urged service providers and equipment manufacturers to train customer services representatives so they can assist consumers.
  • There have been no significant technical or creative issues with the delivery of audio description.
  • The costs of audio description have been consistent with expectations when the rules were made.

Regarding the provision of audio description on IP-delivered programming (i.e. delivered over the internet), the FCC notes that industry commentators have argued there are technical challenges involved in delivering the service. The FCC will continue to monitor these issues and the costs involved, while encouraging industry to take the initiative to develop standards and work towards delivering audio description.

For more information about audio description in the US and other countries, see our Audio description on television page.

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