25 July 2000

By a close 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission is to order broadcasters affiliated to the four major TV networks in the top 25 television markets to provide video-description services by April 2002, nineteen years after the relevant technology became available.

Cable and satellite platforms boasting 50,000 or more subscribers are also affected. They will be compelled to provide video descriptions for any of the networks they carry that are rated in the top five.

The mandatory requirement has not pleased the industry, which argues that it will cause technical problems. Nor were two of the five FCC commissioners - Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Michael Powell – favorably inclined, believing that the watchdog lacks the authority to impose such requirements.

The new rules require video description to be provided for around four hours weekly during prime time and children's programming. To achieve this, a television receiver must be tuned to a secondary-audio-programming channel. Most stereo TVs can already receive SAP signals.

According to the founder of video description, Margaret Pfanstiehl, twelve to fourteen million people will benefit from the services, increasing as the general population ages.

News source: Wall Street Journal