O'Rielly Takes Aim at Kid Vid Mandates

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly hopes and prays that the FCC will reconsider its "Kid Vid" rules, but today they are still just as much in place as ever.

In a new blog post, O'Rielly is proposing the FCC rethink what he calls its "ineffective and burdensome requirements currently imposed on our nation’s broadcasters to air a certain amount of educational and informational children’s programming on a weekly basis." That is the requirement that TV stations air at least three hours per week of core educational/informational children's TV programming in at least 30-minute blocks.

The requirement stems from the FCC's implementation of the 1991 Children's TV Act. In a blog post, O'Rielly points out that the Act had not mandated, or even arguably anticipated, that the FCC would set mandatory minimums.

Initially it did not, he pointed out, but adjusted that on multiple occasions under pressure from congressional Democrats, including expanding the minimum requirement to multicast channels and capping the allowable preemptions for news or live sports.

O'Rielly says that, as a parent, he is a big fan of educational and informational children's TV programming, but says it is available in abundance elsewhere, both on broadcast (PBS) and pay TV (Nickelodeon, Disney, HBO) and over-the-top (Netflix, amazon, Hulu).

He says it is high time the FCC reconsider the mandate, and it is clear where he falls on the issue.

He says the requirement: "preempts more desired or valuable local programming; "kills" shorter or less frequent programming (the Schoolhouse Rock interstials would not qualify, he points out); imposes costly and burdensome paperwork [and] interferes with the development of internet content."

"For the multitude of reasons provided, it is high time the Commission consider whether the Kid Vid rules are still necessary," he writes. "At the very least, there are substantial portions of these rules that can be rolled back or reconsidered."

"The Chairman’s Office looks forward to reviewing his suggestion," said Tina Pelkey, press secretary to Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Families around our country, particularly in low-income areas, rely on free, over-the-air children’s programming as a way to educate our their children," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was instrumental in the Children's Television Act's creation and passage and expanding its implementation, told B&C. "I have serious concerns about the changes contemplated by Commissioner O’Reilly and how they would negatively impact kids coast-to-coast.”

"Then they came for the children. In the past year, the Federal Communications Commission has been dismantling its Congressionally-mandated role to protect the public interest," said Adrianne Furniss, executive director of the Benton Foundation. "The Republican majority’s regulatory “weed wacker” has knocked down online privacy, net neutrality, and other consumer protections. Now Commissioner O’Rielly proposes to eliminate one of television broadcasters’ last public interest obligations – a commitment to serve children with some programming that is primarily educational instead of commercial.

"Commissioner O’Rielly’s proposal should be dead on arrival. It is unthinkable that the FCC would turn its back on children – and the law."

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.