Described Video Service (DVS) for the Blind and Visually Impaired with DirecTV
Described Video Service (DVS) is an alternate audio track provided for certain TV shows and movies. It describes what is happening visually on the screen for the benefit of blind and visually impaired people. The alternate audio track is technically handled like an additional language. It mixes the standard English audio track with narration about actions on screen interspersed between the dialog. Studies show that described video, like Closed Captioning, has benefits even beyond the intended audience in its capability to provide more information and understanding to everyone and allow viewers the capability to focus their attention on something else. The largest number of people who could benefit from this service is Senior Citizens, which is the fastest growing demographic and most likely not wanting to publicly admit their sight is failing.
Great News! DVS Returns to America!
It is finally a reality! Described Video Service (DVS) or sometimes called Audio Described shows are now available through DirecTV and hopefully through broadcast, cable and other satellite providers. It just works! DirecTV has at last come through! Now you can expect to have shows available on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and FOX in the top 25 US cities. Additionally, USA, TNT, TBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney cable networks are required to provide some DVS. These shows are required primarily for Prime Time and children shows. FOX, for instance has DVS for all of the Sunday Night Animation block, even for old reruns. (see regulations below for more details) I wonder why the FCC did not require any of the premium movie channels, such as HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, or Encore to provide DVS? For a long time, Encore was doing this voluntarily! I hope other channels not required to provide DVS recognize the added value and do it anyway for their limited sight viewers.
I can even record a show on my DirecTV R22 DVR and listen to either the standard audio or audio description by pressing the green button on my remote twice! See my
page for more details on the remote's functions, including DVS. Pressing the green button once displays the language or audio channel being used. When listening to a DVS track, this displays "SAP" or sometimes "Spanish".
I have seen absolutely no public announcements of this new feature! DirecTV has no advertisements or even a mention in their newsletters! I have not heard any mention on shows with DVS or FCC Public Service Announcements that this service is available. To make this service valuable, potential users must hear about it. So spread the word! I am still searching and requesting for on-line TV listings that are forward thinking and willing to indicate shows and movies that have this service.
TV Listings with DVS Info for Shows
Having this service is not much use unless you are able to determine which movies and series for which the networks provide the DVS capability! Especially until you can decide whether your favorite series provide it! Not surprisingly, this breakthrough has already changed some of my viewing choices!
Both on-line TV listings that I use on a daily basis, DirecTV.com and TitanTV.com, do not currently indicate which programs have DVS. Several years ago, Yahoo, and Zap2It both had websites that had a labeled DVS graphic near each program in their TV listings. Now that DVS is mandated and common on channels other than PBS, this has been removed! The only source I know of at this moment to find programs that provide DVS is to use the TV listings feature on the NFB Newsline by phone or on the web at
. This is an easy to use feature, but the web service is more easily searched for by looking for a keyword, like audio described". If you are not yet a subscriber sign up now to get access to this needed feature by calling them toll free at 866-504-7300. Remember to also find a local number to call for the automated NFB Newsline phone capability.
Back in 2002, the US Congress passed a law requiring a certain amount of programming by the content providers, broadcasting and transmission by local stations, cable and satellite companies. The Supreme Court later that same year, determined the Law unconstitutional and repealed the Law. This was accomplished by the Networks and DirecTV flooding Washington with throngs of lobbyists and lawyers to fight the decision rather than provide their customers services they really desire. Their main argument was that providing DVS would be too costly and onerous. Personally, I fail to understand how a similar, but more demanding law to provide Closed Captioning for the hearing impaired is constitutional and a law providing DVS capabilities for the visually impaired is not! The hardware to support DVS is already in place in many cases to provide a second language, like Spanish. Closed Captioning, on the other hand, required special hardware dedicated for that purpose. British TV, on the other hand, continues to support a similar law and has a wealth of programming with Audio Description, their version of DVS. A great percentage of this programming is American, such as "Friends". I can not understand how the UK can afford to provide narration for "Friends", while it is too onerous for NBC!
Click here for similar UK Audio Description information
Some networks like PBS, TNT, TCM, Starz, Encore, and others had continued to provide a limited amount of programming voluntarily for many years, until the switch to digital TV in February 2010. then all that seemed to remain was PBS and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). DirecTV for some reason, even refused to route the DVS audio tracks for local PBS channels through their satellite. There is no technical reason provided, except they claim the blind would get confused if there is not something playing on the DVS ttrack all of the time. As someone in that community, I assure you I get more frustrated at their refusal to provide any DVS at all! We are blind or Visually Impaired, not stupid. Besides, this argument makes no sense, since TCM does not follow this rule either and they route this DVS audio track through their satellites just when available.
The technology that had implemented this Secondary Audio Program (SAP) was analog. The new digital equivalent of SAP provides even more capability. The digital technology provides up to 7 audio tracks in addition to the main audio. Analog SAP only was capable of the main audio and one alternate track. The new DirecTV equipment certainly is capable of transmitting and receiving the alternate digital audio signals necessary for providing DVS. In fact, as a Computer Architect and a Satellite Systems Engineer, it appears that the system was wonderfully Engineered to delivering DVS. This especially true for the receiver design! The receiver switches between the audio signals with the touch of one button on the remote. The TV equipment only has to render the video and ppllay the sound. Therefore, the only controlls required for the television set itself is the power, volume controls (up, down and mute), and possibly a method to switch in a DVD or VHS player signal. The DirecTV remote is also a universal remote that can be programmed to handle these functions easily.
I was unaware of this service until around 2008, I had no first hand experience because it was the best kept secret when the law was passed. I watch a lot of TV, listen to a lot of News, and scour the web for Tech announcements. I never heard of such a service until the DVS audio tracks for movies started getting popular on the web for download.
21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
On 8 October 2010, President Obama signed
Public Law 111-260
the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. This act includes a number of provisions intended to increase access to video programming on television and the internet, require as access to the user interfaces used to access information online via smart phones, and require access to on-screen menus for DVD players and set-top boxes.
Specifhically, the bill establishes that:
Within one year of passage of the Act that the FCC will define regulations to make Advanced Communications Services accessible to and usable by people with disabilities (Section 716)
Effective three years after passage of the Act, internet browsers built into mobile phones will need to support accessibility in the browser?s features and functions (Section 718)
Within 60 days the FCC will establish a committee to advise on video programming and emergency access, and that group will develop reports (Section 201)
a report within 6 months which includes deadlines for the delivery of closed captioning services
a report within 18 months recommending the schedule for the delivery of video description
Within 6 months, the FCC will set a schedule for requiring closed captions on video displayed online, for video that was delivered with captions on broadcast television. (Section 202)
The FCC will commence an evaluation within one year of the passage of the Act to investigate the technical challenges, benefits, and technical challenges around video description for online video. (Section 202)
The FCC will define regulations within 18-36 months which require access to the controls that accompany video programming (e.g. play, pause, closed captioning, volume controls) to enable access for people who are blind or visually impaired. (section 204)
The FCC will define regulations within 18-36 months which require on-screen menus and program guides to be accessible to people who are blind or low-vision. (Section 205)
This law seems very wide reaching and yet vague. For the next 1 to three years, it is mostly in a study and report mode. I hope the Networks, cable providers, and satellite providers can manage to serve the blind and visually impaired community this time rather than spending all their money and efforts repealing the law! Of course the law means little unless the FCC can write and enforce some very specific regulations.
Regulations and Status
On 25 August 2011, the FCC reinstated the original regulations that were passed in 2000, with a few footnotes. The rule states that large market television broadcast stations and MVPDs to provide video described programming, and other stations and systems to pass through description they receive.
Docket No. 11-43, FCC No. 11-126 (PDF)
My simplified view of the rule states that stations in the top 50 populated cities shall provide at least 50 hours of DVS programming each quarter. Five cable networks (USA, Disney Channel, TNT, TBS and Nickelodeon) and affiliates of the major networks must now provide about four hours a week (50 hours per quarter) of narrated primetime or children?s programming, starting October 8. Full compliance is required by July 1, 2012.
1 July 2012: First Mandatory Availability
FCC rules require local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC located in the top 25 TV markets (see list in link below) to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children?s programming.
Local TV stations in markets smaller than the top 25 also may provide video description. Check with your local TV stations.
Many Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations also provide video description on a number of programs. Check with your local PBS station.
The requirement to provide video description is extended to local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC located in the top 60 television markets beginning July 1, 2015.
The top 5 non-broadcast networks - Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, and USA - must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children?s programming.
Subscription TV systems (offered over cable, satellite or the telephone network) with 50,000 or more subscribers must carry video description.
Subscription TV systems with fewer than 50,000 subscribers also may provide video description. Check with your subscription TV provider.