[Nfbktad] Audio Description

David Andrews dandrews at visi.com
Fri Jun 15 05:05:04 CDT 2012

Beginning July 1, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, plus the 
top five cable networks will begin providing 
audio descriptions of some of their programming 
for blind or sight-impaired viewers. The shows to 
be described range from ABC's Modern Family to 
CBS's NCIS to Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer to USA's Royal Pains.

For now, stations in the top 25 markets and cable 
systems with 50,000 or more subs will be required 
to offer about four hours a week of the new 
service. The number of stations and hours will gradually increase.

Starting July 1, the country’s 21.5 million 
visually impaired people will be able to enjoy TV more than ever before.

On that day, the Big Four broadcast networks and 
the top five-rated cable networks will begin 
offering four hours a week of so-called video 
descriptions that clue in blind and partially 
sighted viewers on what's going on when the 
characters aren't talking. The descriptions, 
audible only to viewers who want them to be 
audible, are squeezed in between the dialog.

Video descriptions have been part of 
broadcasting, cable, home video, but never to the 
extent on TV as they will be beginning next month.

It's not altruism driving the surge in 
descriptions. They were mandated by Congress in 
the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

According to the FCC's implementing rules, the 
Big Four O&Os and affiliates in the top 25 
markets will have to air 50 hours each quarter ­ 
or roughly four hours a week ­ of described programming.

Cable and satellite systems with at least 50,000 
subscribers have to offer the same amount of 
described programming for the top five-rated 
cable networks ­ currently Disney, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT and USA.

And with just weeks to go before the deadline, 
the described programming plans of nine affected networks are shaping up.

ABC’s plan is to provide descriptions on some of 
its Tuesday and Wednesday shows. This summer, 
those shows include sitcoms Last Man Standing, 
The Middle, Suburgatory, Modern Family, Happy 
Endings and Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23.

In the fall, ABC will likely include most of 
those shows and new sitcom The Neighbors and new drama Nashville.

CBS has been providing audio descriptions for 
several programs since 2002. The lineup is CSI, 
Criminal Minds, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, plus movies and miniseries.

NBC has broadcast a slew of shows with 
descriptions, including the Betty White reality 
show Off Their Rockers, drama Grimm and the 
summer series Saving Hope. Described sitcoms 
include The Office, Up All Night and Parks and Recreation.

At Fox, The Simpsons has been audio described for 
several years. Beyond the animated sitcom, Fox 
isn't prepared to say what it would be offering.

Disney Channel's described shows will include hit 
sitcoms Jessie, A.N.T. Farm and the animated Phineas and Ferb.

Nickelodeon will offer descriptions for some of 
its biggest hits, like the long-running animated 
Dora the Explorer and preschool educational show Team Umizoomi.

Turner Broadcasting will have described movies as 
well as TV series. Among the series: TNT’s The 
Closer and TBS’s Tyler Perry comedies House of Payne and For Better or Worse.

USA’s described programs will include off-network 
shows NCIS and Law & Order: SVU, plus originals like Royal Pains and Suits.

“My hope is that more and more networks will 
embrace these accessibility initiatives,” says 
Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description 
Associates. He serves as director of the American 
Council of the Blind’s audio description project and is an adviser to the FCC.

“If they do it right, they'll find ways to make 
money from it. If they make their shows 
accessible to these folks, there is a bigger 
market for advertisers to sell their products.”

For the most part, video-described programs won't 
include live shows or news. The networks, which 
are providing most of this content to their 
affiliates, need time to write description scripts for voice artists to record.

“It takes longer to get that done than closed 
captioning,” says one network executive. “It also 
requires us to look at how our post-production 
schedules are set up. We have to work very 
closely with the folks at the post-production 
houses to make sure we get the programming to our 
vendors with sufficient time to get the video description correct.”

Producing the descriptions costs between $2,000 to $4,000 per hour.

The networks and some associations for the blind 
are helping to ensure that people with vision 
problems know that descriptions are coming.

“It’s great for the networks to comply, but 
what’s more important is getting the information 
out to folks,” says Helena Berger, EVP-COO of the 
American Association of People with Disabilities. 
She is also a member of Comcast-NBCUniversal’s joint diversity council.

“What we can do on our end at AAPD is to use our 
communication channels, like our newsletter, our 
website and social media to get the word out to the community.”

Some of the networks are creating logos and audio 
tones so that people with vision problems know 
when a program has audio descriptions. So far, 
there isn't an industry standard.

And TV listing providers like Tribune Media 
Services will provide data to programming 
services to let them know if a program is 
audio-described. Then, it’s up to individual 
cable systems to add symbols or sounds to their on-screen listings.

These described programs are the culmination of a 
12-year battle by the FCC and groups such as the 
Audio Description Institute. They thought they 
had won the battle in 2000 when the FCC adopted 
rules similar to the 2010 act, but a court agreed 
with broadcasters that the agency had overstepped its authority.

Now backed by law, the new FCC rules gradually 
expand the description obligations to other TV 
stations. By July 1, 2015, major network 
affiliates in the top 60 markets will have to 
broadcast the descriptions. The FCC may require 
additional stations to air descriptions at a rate 
of 10 markets a year if it deems the cost is reasonable.

According to broadcasters, it costs stations 
anywhere from $10,000 and $25,000 to install the 
gear necessary to handle the extra audio channel.

Just because someone has a disability doesn't 
mean they don't want to be included in life,” 
says Debra Ruh, chief marketing officer at SSB 
Bart Group, a firm that helps companies make 
their computer services and websites fully 
compliant and accessible to people with 
disabilities. “Part of participating in life is 
being able to experience television. TV is a very 
important part of our culture.”


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