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Your Guide to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Offering programming with Audio Description (AD) to your audience isn't only about accessibility anymore – it's the law.

In 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act mandating the inclusion of more audio described shows on TV. The act doesn't just call for more audio description now, but an escalation of primetime AD for years to come.

Audio Description is a way for blind and partially sighted people to better enjoy TV shows and movies. Through an additional audio track, a narrator describes scenes, costumes, action, and key visual elements that might otherwise be lost. These descriptions are inserted into the natural pauses in the dialogue and other audio of the programming.

Besides Audio Description, the act also addresses other issues around closed captioning and accessibility tools on all kinds of digital devices and formats.

To make sure that you are on the right side of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act read on.


Who Needs Audio Description?

Initially, the act calls for broadcast affiliates of the Big Four broadcast networks and the top five cable networks in the top 25 TV markets to provide 50 hours per week of described video. These networks will be reviewed and updated every three years. As of 2013, the list includes:

The Big Four:

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • NBC

The Five Cable Networks

  • USA
  • Disney Channel
  • TNT
  • TBS
  • Nickelodeon

Additionally, any subscription TV system (offered over cable, satellite or the telephone network) with 50,000 or more subscribers is also required to offer the same amount of Audio Description programming (50 hours per week).

Where is Audio Description required?

As of 2013, the top 25 TV markets (which will require the 50 hours of audio description) are:

  1. New York, NY          
  2. Los Angeles, CA       
  3. Chicago, IL    
  4. Philadelphia, PA        
  5. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA           
  7. Boston, MA (Manchester, NH)         
  8. Atlanta, GA   
  9. Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD) 
  10. Houston, TX  
  11. Detroit, MI     
  12. Phoenix, AZ (Prescott, AZ)   
  13. Seattle-Tacoma, WA  
  14. Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL
  15. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
  16. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  17. Denver, CO
  18. Cleveland-Akron, OH (Canton, OH)
  19. Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL
  20. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA
  21. St. Louis, MO
  22. Portland, OR
  23. Charlotte, NC
  24. Pittsburgh, PA
  25. Raleigh-Durham, NC (Fayetteville, NC
When Do We Need Audio Description?

The act signed in 2010 was an adaptation of an earlier act, initially adopted in 2000.  That first act was struck down shortly after is was enacted, but the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act contains much of the same requirements.

When signed in 2010, the act required the above networks to comply by 2012. However, the act includes provisions to escalate requirements and applicable areas year-by-year.

On July 1, 2015, the 50 hours per week Audio Description requirement will be expanded to the top 60 TV markets.

The goal is that by 2020, 100% of television programming will be described.

What else?

The 50 hours per week requirement applies to primetime programming, or children's programming.

The act's Audio Description requirements do not apply to live, or near-live, programming. As a result, networks that specialize in this kind of programming will be likely be exempt.

Once a network, or other provider, has aired a program with AD, then every repeat of that program must also include Audio Description. In other words, if it is aired once with Audio Description, reruns must also do the same. One exception is if the rerun utilizes the secondary audio track for an alternate use (such as another language).

Note that reruns will not count towards the 50 hour per week quota – only first-airings.

How to get Audio Description

To ensure that your program meets the mandate of the FCC law now in effect, call Descriptive Video Works now. With over twelve years in the Audio Description industry and a flawless deadline record, Descriptive Video Works has a reputation you can count on.  To learn more about Descriptive Video Works, visit our services page or drop us a line