NCTA Seeks Some Room to (Re)Run

Trade group seeks FCC relief from video-description rules
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WASHINGTON — Cable operators want the Federal Communications Commission to give them some temporary — or, better yet, permanent — slack when it comes to video-description rules for networks whose business model includes extended plays of show repeats.

Modern Family

USA Network, which relies on off-network repeats like 'Modern Family,' requested a temporary FCC waiver of video-description rules. 

Video description helps the blind and sight-impaired access the nonverbal portions of video, describing scenery or action.

The FCC’s video-description rules limit the times a show’s description can count toward the quarterly mandate of described hours to an initial airing and then one repeat. Period, ad infinitum. And cable viewers know how ad infinitum some shows can run in syndication (think I Love Lucy).

At eight episodes of video-described Modern Family a day, for instance (an example plucked from the USA Network schedule), it doesn’t take long to burn through that library.

NBCUniversal-owned USA asked the FCC for a waiver so it can run more video-described repeats. As NCTA–The Internet & Television Association has pointed out, unlike broadcast networks, cable networks are often built on a business model predicated on a stable of repeatable and repeated shows to recoup their investments. Off-network hits don’t come cheap.

The FCC is worried cable networks will try to meet their video description obligations with reruns of a limited catalog of shows, but NCTA said not to worry since a network that tried such a rerun strategy “would not be able to attract or retain viewers.”

While USA is asking for a limited waiver, NCTA has petitioned for a permanent safe harbor, perhaps resembling the lagoon in Gilligan’s Island.