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Nets see read on vid-description ruling

B'casters must carry 50 hours of narrated p'gramming

WASHINGTON — The TV biz lost out on a bid to delay a Monday deadline by which major market TV stations and top cablers must begin offering narrative programming for the blind and visually impaired.

The Federal Communications Commission earlier this week refused to push back the date, as requested by the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecom Assn. and the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Impacted stations, cablers and direct satellite broadcasters must begin carrying 50 hours of narrated programming per each four-month quarter.

Courting favorable ruling

The three trade orgs are fighting the new video-description rules in court, and had urged the FCC to postpone the matter until a federal appeals in Washington rules later this year. Judicially speaking, the TV biz says the FCC lacked the authority when approving the access rules in 2000.

In an order released Tuesday, the FCC said there was no reason to delay the deadline, stiffly disregarding the argument that it would cost the TV biz millions to begin offering narrative programming, all for naught if the rules are tossed out by the court.

“Under these circumstances, petitioners have fallen short of showing that their injury is ‘both clear and great,’ or that the purported economic (impact) would ‘threaten the very existence of the movant’s business,'” reg agency said.

The FCC said that only stations affiliated with or owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are impacted, and of those, only stations in the country’s top 25 markets. Cablers and direct satellite broadcasters with 50,000 or more customers also are included.

Commission said it has been deluged with letters from the blind or visually impaired who eagerly await the advent of video description, which will allow individuals to hear what they cannot see. Narration will be inserted into natural pauses of audio programming.

Millions in expenditures

Nets say it will cost them millions to modify the systems by which they deliver programming to affiliates and owned and operated stations. Producing the actual narration is expected to range from $1.3 million to $5.4 million by the end of this year, nets and cablers say.

The National Council for the Blind has long been in favor of video description; while the National Federation for the Blind opposes them, saying a federal mandate isn’t needed.

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