FCC Takes Up Kids Compromise

The FCC is slated to take up a compromise version of its digital kids TV rules in a March 17 open meeting.

The commission is widely expected to OK the deal, which heads off lawsuits filed by both sides over the rules. The NAB board has already voted to support the agreement.

Although the effective date of the rules was stayed, as part of the agreement, the 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 rules to court--the media companies because they thought they were too restrictive, the activists because they thought they were not tough enough.

Currently the FCC has stayed enforcement of its own take on digital TV kids rules pending consideration of the agreement, which all the commissioners were briefed on, including new commissioner, Deborah Tate.

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.

In addition, there would be no numerical limits, as the current rules contain, on the ability of broadcasters to preempt kids shows for live sports and other programming.

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.