Kidvid squeeze play

FCC likely to OK webs' sports preemptions

WASHINGTON — ABC, CBS and NBC are expected to get a reprieve from federal regulators today that will allow the major webs to preempt their educational kidvid shows on Saturday mornings for live sports programming.

Under rules that go into effect Sept. 1, every TV station in the country must air at least three hours of “regularly scheduled” educational kidvid each week.

Assurances sought

Because most stations are relying on their Saturday-morning network feed to meet the kidvid requirement, the webs want assurance from the Federal Communications Commission that preempting the kidvid for sports won’t violate the agency’s new mandate.

Noon kick-offs on the East Coast are particularly troublesome for stations in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. Unless a deal is worked out with the FCC soon, millions of sports fans could roll out of bed on Saturday to find college football and Indy racing coverage replaced by educational programming aimed at preteens.

Last week, the major webs promised the FCC they would reschedule any preempted kidvid programming to another time when kids are likely to watch. In addition, the webs told the FCC they would promote the rescheduled kidvid heavily in primetime to make sure parents and kids are aware of the programming change.

Network lobbyists were cautiously optimistic that a final deal could be worked out before the fall schedule is sent out to listing services next week. And FCC commissioner Susan Ness said Tuesday she is confident the issue could be resolved by today.

“Each of the networks has proposed a package that provides an aggressive promotion of the educational programming schedule,” Ness said.

Ness said CBS, NBC and ABC had made individual requests, and that each web would receive a specific reply to its proposal, as each has varying concerns.

ABC regularly preempts Saturday- morning cartoons in Pacific and Mountain time zones for college football. NBC has a handful of Saturday sports preemptions each year, for an NFL game, two NBA playoffs, Wimbledon tennis finals and two Notre Dame football contests. CBS Sports has virtually no preemptions of kid programs, while Fox easily fulfills its FCC requirement anyway with its weekday Fox Kids schedule.

In addition, Ness said the networks have agreed to create a “second home” for the educational kidvid in the schedule that will follow closely to its originally scheduled airtime.

Nets anxious

Network lobbyists were reluctant to discuss the details of their proposals, saying they will remain anxious about the preemption issue until they receive the FCC’s official responses.

In an effort to hold the FCC’s feet to the fire, eight senators wrote to FCC chairman Reed Hundt last week in support of the broadcasters’ concerns.

The senators wrote that they were concerned the FCC would limit preemptions to 10% of the total three-hour kidvid quota. “Such a narrow interpretation,” wrote the senators, “will force stations into the untenable situation of choosing between broadcasting major sports events on a live basis or meeting the safe harbor guidelines of the children’s television rules.”

Among the signers were Commerce Committee member Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Senate Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

One FCC source said the agency wants to remain flexible this year because it is the first season the new kidvid rules will be in effect. Any decision on preemptions will be revisited next year, the source said.

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