Kids TV Groups to FCC: OTT is No Substitute for Broadcast Kids Fare

A trio of children's advocacy groups are telling the FCC that if they proceed with their proposed deregulation of children's TV rules, it could spell the end of children's programming on broadcast TV.

"The FCC’s assumption that children’s television guidelines are no longer necessary because programming is available on other platforms is simply wrong," they told the FCC. "To obtain access to non-broadcast programming, households must have access to cable or broadband service, and be able to afford subscription fees and equipment. Many families, especially low-income families and families in rural areas cannot access or afford alternative program options." 

That came in comments from the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Benton Foundation filed Monday, the deadline for comment on the proposal. The groups are represented by Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation.

At baseline, the Republican-driven effort is premised on a changing market filled with children's programming on cable and over-the-top, which they see as obviating the need for mandates and quotas on broadcasters, and as prompting the need for deregulating the FCC's enforcement of the children's TV statute to give those broadcasters more flexibility than a 30-minute, weekly scheduled on-air educational and/or informational program.

"Only children’s programs on broadcast and cable are subject to advertising limits and policies prohibiting deceptive and unfair advertising practices such as host-selling," counter groups in their filing this week," the said, "and only television broadcasters are mandated to provide programming specifically designed to educate and inform children."

Related: Senate Dems tell FCC to Abandon Kids TV NPRM

They say, by contrast, that online offerings are for the most part “program-length commercials and 'native' ads designed specifically to promote and sell toys, fast-food and other products. The groups also cite the privacy drawbacks of relying on over-the-top." [T]he NPRM fails to address the problem that children watching videos on YouTube, on mobile apps, and even on premium OTT services, are subjected to invasive data collection, profiling and interactive ad targeting practices," they said.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) adopted July 12 asked lots of questions and posed its proposals as tentative conclusions. It would have sounded even more like a notice of inquiry (information-seeking that is one step removed even from an NPRM) than a rulemaking proposal if the lone Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel had been convinced to vote for the effort--Republican Michael O'Rielly, who was heading up the item, said he would have been willing to remove all the tentative conclusions had they reached an agreement. Rosenworcel had too many issues with the underlying direction of the item to agree to support it even without conclusions.

While it was approved July 12, the NPRM is not the same as a final order. It signals what the chairman plans to do, and seeks input on other things it might do but still has questions about, with a final vote not coming until stakeholders have a chance to weigh in--which they have now had a chance to do--and the item adjusted accordingly, if need be.

O'Rielly had signaled he hoped to have a final order voted by year's end, so that timetable would appear still to be in play.

Currently, there is a three-hour per week mandate of children's educational or informational (E/I) programming. 

The NPRM ponders lifting that mandate, or allowing non-broadcast efforts to count toward the baseline requirement of meeting children's programming needs.

The FCC also is suggesting broadcasters be able to fulfill their children's programming obligations, whether it remains a quota of hours or some other approach, on their multicast stations, if they program them, rather than having to to so on their primary channel. Currently, stations must air at least three hours of E/I on their primary channel between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. (so called "core" children's programming), then additional programming on their multicast channels in proportion to the free video they provide there. So, if they program them 24/7 with free content, it is the same three hours, but if only two-thirds free content, then two hours, etc

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.