FCC Proposes Major Kids TV Rule Changes

The FCC is tentatively proposing to eliminate a number of children's TV rules, and seeks comment on changing others, tentatively concluding that educational and informational programming does not have to be at least a half-hour in length and regularly scheduled. 

The agency also proposes cutting the frequency of kids TV reports to the FCC from quarterly to annually.That is according to a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) released by the FCC Thursday (June 21) for a July 12 vote.The NPRM seeks comment on whether there still needs to be a three-hour-per-week mandate and whether the hours in the day when programming qualifies as filling the requirement should be expanded.

FCC Tees Up Kids Dereg Options

Other suggested changes include potentially allowing broadcasters to fulfill their children's educationald and informational programming requirements with off-air efforts or "special sponsored efforts," and whether to allow Media Bureau staffers to approve license renewals of stations who opt for that route, rather than requiring a full commission vote.

"The modifications proposed in the Notice are designed to provide broadcasters greater flexibility in fulfilling their children’s programming obligations in light of these changes, while preserving access to children’s programming for households that rely on over-the-air television and do not have access to the proliferation of programming options on non-broadcast platforms," says an FCC fact sheet.

The FCC opened a docket on rethinking the "Children's Television Programming Rules"  Thursday as well (18-202)

The FCC will collect comment on the proposals, motormanned by commissioner Michael O'Rielly, and though he clearly aligns with them, he has also said he is keeping an open mind.

O'Rielly may have been deputized to lay down the proposed new law and russle up comments, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is clearly on the same page.

"These rules impose programming mandates on broadcast television stations (and only broadcast television stations)," the chairman blogged this week.  Commissioner O’Rielly has developed a number of proposals for updating these regulations to better match today’s video marketplace. As the father of two young children, I know firsthand that the way kids watch video programming these days is very different than when I was growing up. But our children’s television rules haven’t kept up with the times."

The NPRM would:

  • "Tentatively conclude that the requirements that Core Programming be at least 30 minutes in length and regularly scheduled weekly programming be eliminated.
  • "Seek comment on whether to expand the timeframe when Core Programming can be aired.
  • "Tentatively conclude that noncommercial stations should no longer be required to identify Core Programming with the “E/I” symbol, and seek comment on whether to continue to require commercial stations to identify Core Programming with the “E/I” symbol.
  • "Seek comment on whether to retain the requirement that broadcasters provide information identifying children’s programming to publishers of program guides.
  • "Tentatively conclude that the Children’s Television Programming Report, FCC Form 398, should be filed on an annual rather than quarterly basis and seek comment on ways to streamline this report
  • "Seek comment on whether to modify the three-hour per week safe harbor processing guideline for determining compliance with the children’s programming rules.
  • "Seek comment on the creation of a framework under which broadcasters could satisfy their children’s programming obligations by relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts, and propose to allow Media Bureau staff, rather than the full Commission, to approve the renewal applications of licensees relying on such special efforts.
  • "Propose to allow multicasting stations to choose on which of their free over-the-air streams to air their required Core Programming hours and tentatively conclude that the additional Core Programming guideline applicable to multicasting stations should be eliminated.
  • "Seek comment on whether the policies governing the preemption of children’s programming should be revised or whether other rule changes proposed in the Notice would provide broadcasters sufficient flexibility to schedule their Core Programming so as to avoid the need for preemptions."

Signaling the proposed kids TV dereg might leave a void that noncommercial TV could fill, America’s Public Television Stations president Patrick Butler said following the NPRM's release: “America’s public television stations stand ready to work with all interested parties to ensure that the educational and informational needs of America’s young people are fully met with all the scholastic, technological and policy tools we can devise and devote to our most fundamental mission.

“Public television provides the only free, over-the-air national television service for children -- offering more than 20 shows that support kids’ learning -- and now reaches more than 95 percent of U.S. television households all day every day, reaching the 54 percent of America’s children who don’t receive any formal preschool education," he said, adding that it could do even more with "more financial resources, whether from governments, foundations, corporations, individuals, or fellow broadcasters..."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.