Last October, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, opening the doors for the FCC to reinstate the mandate for Video Description on US networks which had first seen the light in 2001.
Back then, the US, Canada and the UK were all roughly at the same early stages of making TV accessible to the vision-impaired. But a district court ruling rolled back the FCC mandate, saying Congress was the only entity with enough authority to establish such a requirement.
More than 10 years later, the mandate is poised to be reinstated as of July 1st, 2012.
What does this mean for you? If you are a sight-impaired person in the US, it means you will soon have access to the same levels of video description that Canadians had back in 2001/2002, about 50 hours per quarter for the top nine networks in the top 25 markets.
If you are a producer, this means that having your shows described, and offering them already with Descriptive Video, will add to their value for the networks, as they will serve to fulfil that mandate.
If the experience of Canada and the UK is anything to go by, the 50 hours per quarter, top nine networks and top 25 markets are but a starting point. As the years progress, the mandate will widen to encompass tier-two networks, specialty channels, any market served by cable or satellite, and certainly far more than 50 hours per quarter.
All in all, if you are a TV executive or producer, you’d have to think of video description today as being roughly the equivalent of closed captioning back in the early 1990’s, with one significant exception: The mandate was artificially rolled back in the US, but it did continue its course North of the border, in the UK and as far afield as Australia. This means that even though the concept of video description will be new for some, it really has been around, in ever increasing volume and at ever decreasing cost, in other parts of the world.
Today, you can get a show described for the vision-impaired at a cost that in many cases is the same or lower than that for closed captioning it, with remarkably high quality and turn around speeds that would have been thought impossible ten years ago.
So, whether you are a consumer of DV or you need it for your production, things are definitely looking up!