FCC's O'Rielly: Children's Television Rules Haven't Produced Great TV

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly pitched to Kentucky broadcasters on his proposal to deregulate children's TV rules.

Generally broadcasters support a lighter touch, but O'Rielly's pitch was delivered with some tough love.

In a speech to the Kentucky Broadcasters Association, O'Rielly ticked off stats showing that kids are increasingly tuning in to mobile devices and tablets for content and less to kids TV.

Related: O'Rielly Takes Aim at Kid Vid Mandates

"I say this not to denigrate broadcasters’ future which I believe to be bright, but to state facts that are a market reality," he told them. 

But he was not done with the market realities. "[L]et's have an honest conversation about quality," he said as as way to segue into the point that commercial TV did not produce a panoply of great educational and informational programming in response to the FCC's kids TV rules, which required three hours a week of E/I programming in 30-minute increments and with commercial limits.

He pointed to comments by Sesame Street Workshop that said the current implementation of the Children's Television Act “has not resulted in the delivery of the highest quality educational and informational programming for children.”

O'Rielly also cited Nexstar's argument that the rules were in part to blame for that lack of quality, though Nexstar was laying the blame on national distributors rather than local stations.

"As Nexstar argues, 'creating opportunities for broadcasters to produce or procure higher quality, local facing or focus driven children’s programming...instead of settling for canned, rule compliant, programming widely available from networks and syndicators would benefit consumers the most,'” he said.

Related: FCC Proposes Major Kids TV Rule Changes

O'Rielly had plenty of other broadcaster complaints about the kids TV mandates to draw on, and did.

Among the ones he cited: 

--WDRB (TV) says it has been "thwarted" from airing Saturday basketball game pre-game shows for basketball games of powerhouses Louisville and Kentucky," "which I hear are quite popular in this region," O'Rielly joked.

--"An Oklahoma TV station stopped its extended weather coverage to air mandated Kid Vid programs," O'Rielly said. "Anyone aware of weather issues in Oklahoma?"

--Nexstar’s GMs say is stations have "forgone airing local sports programs, health specials [including on the opioid crisis), parades, debates and national breaking news due to the Commission’s Kid Vid requirements." 

The commissioner gave NBC a shout out for its partnership with Snapchat on twice-daily app-based news targeted to GenXers that reaches 35 million online uniques each month. He pointed out that such a format for kids TV would not fulfill FCC rule requirements because they are short-form rather than the minimum 30 minutes. "How many more examples of this would we see if more flexibility was provided and the 30-minute rule was eliminated?" he asked. 

"The record is full of other examples highlighting why our rules need to be modified," O'Rielly said, but added: "It is important for me to emphasize that I remain open-minded and will only move forward on a proposal that strikes the important balance of protecting children viewers, modernizing our rules, and providing flexibility."

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.