On November 30, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Media Bureau released a Public Notice announcing national nonbroadcast network rankings ahead of the next triennial update to the list of networks subject to the FCC's audio description requirements, which occurs July 1, 2024.
Under Section 79.3(a)(3) of the FCC's rules, audio narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements are inserted into natural pauses between the program's dialogue to provide accessible video programming to individuals who may be blind or visually impaired. The audio description rules require multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) systems that serve 50,000 or more subscribers to provide 87.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter on channels carrying each of the top five national nonbroadcast networks. The rules further require that 50 of such hours per calendar quarter must be provided in prime time programming or during children's programming, while the additional 37.5 hours may be provided at any time between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.
The top five national nonbroadcast networks are defined by an average of the national audience share during prime time among nonbroadcast networks that reach 50% or more of MVPD households and have at least 50 hours per quarter of prime time programming that is not live or near-live, or otherwise exempt under the audio description rules. The FCC defines "live or near-live programming" as "programming performed either simultaneously with, or recorded no more than 24 hours prior to, its first transmission by a video programming distributor." 47 C.F.R. § 79.3(a)(7) (2020).
The FCC updates the list of the top five nonbroadcast networks at three-year intervals to account for changes in ratings based on the most recent prior ratings year, with the next update occurring on July 1, 2024, based on the 2022 to 2023 cable ratings year covering September 19, 2022, to September 24, 2023. According to the Nielsen Company data, the top 10 nonbroadcast networks for the 2022 to 2023 ratings year are:
- Fox News Channel
For the current interval, the non-exempt top five national nonbroadcast networks subject to the audio description requirements are:
In the 2021 triennial review, the FCC determined the top five national nonbroadcast networks after approving four nonbroadcast stations' requests for exemptions from the audio description rules, on grounds that each station provided less than 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime time programming that was not live or near-live programming. As a result, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, and ESPN were each exempted from the audio description rules. Of the six remaining nonbroadcast stations, the FCC determined the top five nonbroadcast networks based on Nielsen ratings, which left Discovery out of the top five. The FCC will undertake a similar process for the 2024 triennial review.
To this end, the Public Notice directs any of the 10 networks that believes it should be excluded from the list of top five networks to seek an exemption by no later than January 19, 2024. Any filings for exemption must be submitted electronically via ECFS in MB Docket No. 11-43.
 The audio description rules also require commercial broadcast stations affiliated with the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) that are licensed to a community located in the top 100 DMAs, as recently expanded to apply to DMAs 91 through 100 as of January 1, 2024, to provide 50 hours of audio description per calendar quarter, either during prime time or children's programming, and an additional 37.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. for each programming stream on which they carry one of the top four commercial broadcast networks.