NAB: Because FCC Can Regulate KidVid Doesn't Mean it Should

The National Association of Broadcasters says that there is no evidence that young viewers, who it says clearly prefer getting their video online, on demand and in small bites, "rely in any meaningful way "on FCC-mandated educational and informational (E/I) programming.

"Given that, what is left undergirding the rules is the "notion that, because broadcasters can be regulated, they should be regulated," NAB says. Which it also says is arbitrary and capricious, which violates the law.

In reply comments on the FCC's proposal to revamp its rules implementing the 1996 Children's Television Act, the NAB said many of the FCC's current KidVid rules force broadcasters to air educational and informational (E/I) programming in a "rigid way that fails to engage young viewers and that unnecessarily restricts the ability of broadcasters to schedule other highly valued local and live programming.

"NAB says the FCC has the authority to change the rules, that the Act does not require it to impose any specific regs. Today, very few children and teens rely on commercial broadcast TV E/I programming, or on broadcast TV more generally," it says. NAB isn't asking that the FCC lift the 156 hour-per-year requirement for E/I programming, just that they let broadcasters schedule it when, where, and in whatever lengths make sense in terms of their business model.

NAB cites data from CBS and NBC that is sobering. "[O]n the average NBC or CBS station--counting some of the biggest markets in the country--fewer than 90 children are accessing each E/I program over-the-air."

"And to the argument that broadcasters should not be allowed to put all their E/I programming on a multicast channel because many cable ops don't carry them," NAB said that is not broadcasters' problem. 

"TV stations are only responsible for broadcasting E/I programming free over-the-air. They are not responsible for MVPD carriage of their signals containing that programming (nor can they be because the FCC does not grant must-carry status to multicast channels." 

Related: FCC's O'Rielly Says Kids TV Rules Have Not Produced Great TV

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly has spearheaded what he signaled was a necessary review of the KidVid rules given the increasing availability of children's programming on pay TV and over-the-top.

A politically divided FCC voted 3-1 in July to launch a revamp of its children's television rules.Those are the 1996 rules that implement the Children's Television Act, which obligated TV stations to air educational and informational children's TV programming.

The FCC is proposing to eliminate the requirements that mandatory children's educational and informational programming be at least a half-hour long and regularly scheduled, that it must air on a TV stations primary channel, and that TV stations must file quarterly children's TV reports--the item suggests annually is sufficient, and seeks input on other ways to streamline reporting requirements. 

It also proposes to allow broadcasters to satisfy their kids programming obligations via sponsorship efforts or other "non-broadcast" efforts. The item also seeks comment on other elements of its rules, including limitations on preemptions and "whether to update the three-hour per week processing guideline used in determining compliance with the children’s programming rules.

"Behind the proposed changes and questions are the Republicans' argument that the market has changed, that a wealth of children's TV is available on MVPDs and over-the-top providers, that broadcasters need more flexibility on when and how to program their required children's fare, and that only a small fraction of homes with kids lack either broadband or an MVPD--20% of 2.5%," according to O'Rielly.

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.