MSNBC Seeks FCC Exemption from Video Rules for the Blind

Dec 27, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 27, 2023 – Cable news channel MSNBC is seeking approval from federal regulators to skip providing audio descriptions for the blind during the Rachel Maddow Show and other live network programming.

The Federal Communications Commission has rules pursuant to a 2010 law that require some cable networks to furnish audio descriptions, but MSNBC said that because so many hours of its programming are live, the network met the criteria for an FCC exemption.

“[MSBNC] still broadcasts on average fewer than 50 hours per quarter of programming during prime time that is not live or near-live, and thus the network is still not within the scope of the rules,” NBCUniversal lawyers said in a Dec. 26 filing with the FCC on behalf of the network.

If approved, the FCC would be granting MSNBC its third exemption since 2018.

According to the FCC’s website: “Audio description is audio-narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements. These descriptions are inserted into natural pauses in the program's dialogue. Audio description makes TV programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

Under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, the FCC requires cable and satellite TV providers with 50,000 or more subscribers to provide 37.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter, between 6 a.m. and midnight, on each of the top five non-broadcast networks that they carry.

According to MSNBC, the FCC excluded from the top five “any non-broadcast network that does not provide, on average, at least 50 hours per quarter of prime time non-exempt programming, i.e., programming that is not live or near-live.”

MNBC’s filing underscored the network’s reliance on live programming by referring to the shows of its prime-time stars, including: The Rachel Maddow Show, All In with Chris Hayes, Inside with Jen Psaki, Alex Wagner Tonight, and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

“In light of the volume of the network’s live and near-live programs (which rarely offer any visual elements other than seated in-studio hosts and guests), MSNBC is precisely the type of network that should be excluded from the FCC’s audio description rules under the [FCC’s] established procedures,” MSNBC’s filing said.

During the past six quarters, MSNBC aired on average 24.3 hours of non-exempt programming (meaning recorded programming), ranging from 15 hours in the second quarter of 2023 to 33 hours in the first quarter of 2023, NBCUniversal lawyers said.

According to the website Statista, MSNBC had 1.14 million prime time viewers in November, lagging top performer Fox News Channel by 585,000 viewers.