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FCC Slates Kids Rules For Consideration

The FCC is apparently ready to reconsider its children's TV rules in light of changes suggested by a bipartisan group of broadcasters and kids TV activists.

The commission has scheduled the issue for its Sept. 26 open meeting.

The FCC issued new children's TV rules for the digital age back in fall 2005, but eventually stayed the effective date of the rules after they were criticized--and sued--by broadcasters for being too tough, and activists for not being tough enough.

In the interim broadcasters and children's advocates came to a meeting of the minds and submitted a compromise proposal for the rules.

The commission is  expected to OK some version of the deal, which heads off lawsuits filed by both kids-TV activists and media companies. The NAB board has already voted to support the agreement. commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, a veteran mediator, has been particularly upbeat about the consensus on the rules, saying she would like to see the industry work out more of its issues through compromise.

Although the January effective date of the new rules was stayed as part of the agreement, a number of media companies agreed to start complying with its terms as of March 1.

Signed up to line up along the new rules laid down by the deal are Viacom, CBS, Disney, Fox, NBC Universal, Time Warner, Discovery, 4Kids Entertainment and the Association of National Advertisers.

The deal was struck in December after both sides took the FCC's DTV kids-TV rules to court--the media companies because they thought they were too restrictive, the activists because they thought they were not tough enough. The FCC rewrote the rules to reflect additional channels and functions in the digital age, but the rules also apply to analog TV and some to cable as well.

It is not clear how much, if any, the FCC has modified the industry-activist compromise, but the deal would leave in place the requirement that broadcasters air three hours of children's TV per channel in both analog and digital. That was the key issue of the coalition, says McIntyre.

In addition, the media companies agreed not to challenge limits on the display of commercial Web sites during children's programming.

The groups agreed to a modified form of host selling in which the use of TV characters to sell products to kids would be confined to specific areas of a Web site if that Web address was displayed in shows that featured those characters.

The key is that there will have to be a buffer between the character and a sales pitch.

Arguably, the biggest deal was on program promotion in kids shows. The FCC rules as currently constituted count any program promotion in a kids show as an advertisement, reducing the amount of paid ads that can air during the show. Under the agreement, show promos for kids shows on the same channel or educational kids shows on any channel would not count as ad time.

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.