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Genachowski Speaks of Dangers Posed By Youths' Increased Screen Time

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Wednesday (Jan. 20) talked
about the dangers to youth of proliferating media and increased screen time in
front of them, but he also said there was potential to educate and engage future
world citizens in that media mix by combining regulation, technology, and new
business models.

He also suggested that new media might be better suited to
educating kids than a broadcast model based on aggregating eyeballs.

Genachowski was the opening speaker at a Kaiser Family
Foundation event in Washington
announcing the release of a third in a seriesof studies on media usage by young people.

The study found that usage had gone up dramatically among
8-18-year-olds, with TV still the dominant screen time.

The chairman, who worked to implement the Children's
Television Act as a top FCC staffer in the 1990s, said the release of the study
underscores the FCC's effort to update that act for the digital age--it
launched an inquiry in October. "When I think about the challenges, I
think about more screens, more time in front of screens, and more dangers from

He said "more and new" dangers included online
predators, "effects on education that the report documents and effects on
childhood obesity."

"We know why educational and informational programming
on broadcast television has historically been a challenge," he said. "The
business model lends itself to the opposite. If you have a business model that
is premised on aggregating the largest possible audience, it doesn't make sense
for folks in that business to wake up every day to say how exactly do we
educate 5-8-year-olds."

He added that the country has decided they have to do that
anyway, which is why there is a Children's Television Act. The act requires TV
stations to air a minimum of three hours of educational programming a week and
limits the commercials in that programming.

"But as we implement those, we have to understand that
we are fighting against a business model that quite understandably wants to
push broadcasters in a different direction, hence the tension, hence progress
is slower than we would like."

Genachowski said an opportunity in fragmented media is a
business model for targeted content. With the Internet and interactive cable,
he said there should be an economic incentive for targeted educational

"We all look at this explosion of communications of
technology and media and see real opportunities in access to new information to
help improve education and enable kids to engage even more with each other and,
as they grow up an hit 18, [become] citizens of our country and the world."

He said the changes in technology and the media marketplace
can "inform changes in policy going forward, so that we have, at the end,
an ecosystem of policy, technology and economics that really serves kids and
honors the First Amendment at the same time."

He also put in a plug for broadband everywhere, saying too
many kids were being left behind and that they would need to be connected to be
engaged citizens and economic participants.

Vicky Rideout, director of Kaiser's Program for the Study of
Media and Health, said in rollout of the study that children spend more than 53
hours with media per week, which is more than church, school, and family. That,
she said, justifies a hard look at how the messages of that media, including
ads, affect kids.

Rideout mentioned the balance between creative freedom and
wanting to protect kids from content that might be harmful.  She said the study was intended to help
provide a base on which to build, both in terms of policy and public health
public service messages. She also said it should give media company executives
a chance to step back and look at the big picture.

That big picture, said researcher Don Roberts, a Stanford
University professor, is that with miniaturized and mobilized media, kids are
close to on-screen 24/7.

Rideout said expansion of home Internet, multitasking and an
explosion of multimedia has led to the increase in usage. She also said parents
don't tend to set limits on media.

The FCC is collecting industry comments for its wide-ranging
inquiry into government and parents roles in managing media content for
children in a world of multiplying digital platforms. The study will be part of
that record.

Genachowski asked his audience to "pay great attention
to this important report."

John Eggerton
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.