FCC's E/I Bug Lands

Broadcasters have only a few weeks to start working the bugs into their system, after which adults will no longer have the corner on screen clutter, uh, valuable information.

That's because the FCC has finally gotten Office of Management and Budget approval of the commission's decision last fall to require broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial alike, to display an on-screen "E/I" (educational/informational) bug throughout the entirety of an FCC-friendly kids show. That's at least if they want to get credit toward their FCC-mandated three-hour weekly minimum of educational children's programming.

The FCC is expected to put out a public notice in the next few days setting the effective date for the rule, "probably less than 30 days," said an FCC source.

"We note that broadcasters now display icons and other on-screen information with increasing frequency in many kinds of programming," the commission said last fall, "and the public is increasingly used to seeing such information displayed along with program material. Broadcasters’ increasing voluntary use of onscreen identifiers, such as network logos, presumably reflects their judgment as to the effectiveness of this technique in communicating information.  We believe that broadcasters can display the E/I icon* in an unobtrusive manner* that will help parents and others identify core programs without deterring potential child viewers." 

The FCC adopted the new on-screen obligation as part of its larger kids rule rewrite last November, including making noncoms have to ID their educational kids shows. But, because the bug requirement is considered an information collection obligation, it first had to be approved by OMB per the Paperwork Reduction Act.

New commercial limits on kids shows kicked in Feb. 3, which is when the E/I requirement also could have become effective had OMB been quicker on the uptake.

Other elements of new kids rules, including restrictions on Web sites promoted in shows and limits on promos for non-educational content, won't trigger until Jan. 1, 2006, after broadcasters argued a Feb. 1, 2005, date could not be met.

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.