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FCC Launches KidVid Revamp

A politically divided FCC has voted 3-1 to launch a revamp of its children's television rules.

Those are the 1996 rules that implement the Children's Television Act, which obligated TV stations to air educational and informational children's TV programming.

The FCC is proposing to eliminate the requirements that mandatory children's educational and informational programming be at least a half-hour long and regularly scheduled, that it must air on a TV stations primary channel, and that TV stations must file quarterly children's TV reports--the item suggests annually is sufficient, and seeks input on other ways to streamline reporting requirements. 

It also proposes to allow broadcasters to satisfy their kids programming obligations via sponsorship efforts or other "non-broadcast" efforts. 

The item also seeks comment on other elements of its rules, including limitations on preemptions and "whether to update the three-hour per week processing guideline used in determining compliance with the children’s programming rules."

Behind the proposed changes and questions are the Republicans' argument that the market has changed, that a wealth of children's TV is available on MVPDs and over-the-top providers, that broadcasters need more flexibility on when and how to program their required children's fare, and that only a small fraction of homes with kids lack either broadband or an MVPD--20% of 2.5%, according to Commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

"The FCC’s current children’s television rules don’t reflect the vast changes that have revolutionized the video marketplace in recent years," said FCC chairman Ajit Pai. "It’s beyond time to take a fresh look at our “kidvid” regulations and explore how they should be modernized."

The chairman's office put it this way in an e-mail following the vote: "There have been dramatic changes in the video programming marketplace since the FCC first adopted its children’s programming rules over 20 years ago. For example, live TV viewing has declined as more consumers watch video programming using DVRs and video on demand. There is also now a vast array of children’s programming available from non-broadcast outlets such as cable networks, over-the-top providers, and Internet sites, as well as a proliferation of educational children’s content from non-commercial broadcast stations."

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who defended the effort, called it a first step toward modernizing the KidVid rules. He said the item recognizes the shift in content consumption. He also said he envisioned a scenario, under the "non-broadcast" options for meeting the kids programming standard, "in which a broadcaster could provide funding for another entity in the market doing a better job at serving children's needs."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who pointed out she was the only mom on the Dais, said she was disappointed that the majority would not convert the NPRM to a notice of inquiry-O'Reilly said that would simply be an effort to delay the proceeding. Rosenworcel said there were millions of low-income kids who relied on over-the-air TV, and that the result of what the FCC was proposing, there would be less quality children's programming on broadcast TV and that it would be for families to locate and watch.

She indicated she understood the market had changed and was not opposed to a review of the rules, but that should come in an inquiry, not a rule proposal. "It takes the values in the Children’s Television Act and instead of modernizing them for the digital age, seeks to discard them with a cruel disregard for the children left behind," she said.

O'Rielly said after the meeting that he could find few big-ticket issues--lifeline, net neutrality--that had begun with NOI's and bristled at the suggestion the FCC was skipping some key step.

Rosenworcel said after the meeting that she had had productive conversations with O'Rielly about the item, including O'Rielly's willingness to take out the tentative conclusions, but that at the end of the day simply excising those conclusions wasn't enough.

Pai said there would be an open and active conversation on the issues as the comments on the proposals came in.

“NAB thanks the FCC for its proposal to update children’s television programming rules and Commissioner O’Rielly for his leadership on this issue," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Broadcasters remain committed to delivering educational programming to kids. But given the seismic changes in how children consume media, it makes perfect sense for the Commission to take a fresh look at these regulations. We will work with the FCC and other stakeholders to craft common-sense, flexible and effective rules that allow local TV stations to continue serving the educational needs of children.”

NAB's Rick Kaplan also blogged on the issue.