FCC Revises Children’s Programming Rules for Broadcasters

The FCC on Wednesday voted to revise some of the obligations that broadcast TV stations have to carry informational and educational programming for children.

The changes, adopted on a 3-2 vote, reflect the push by broadcasters to loosen the obligations established under the landmark Children’s Television Act in 1990, which established a detailed set of regulations that broadcasters have to comply with in order to retain their licenses from the FCC. The FCC also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to study other adjustments — what FCC described as effort to “modernize” — to the rules.

The changes implemented on Wednesday include expanding by one hour the time periods in which stations can run programs that comply with CTA rules. Stations can now carry educational/informational programming as early as 6 a.m., rather than 7 a.m., through 10 p.m.

TV stations under the CTA are obligated to run 156 hours a year of educational and informational (E/I) programming. Under the rule changes, stations are allowed to carry up to 52 hours a year of E/I programming in the form of specials or short-form content rather than ongoing series. Stations can also shift up to 13 hours of programming per quarter onto a multicast stream rather than their primary broadcast channel.

Broadcasters applauded FCC chairman Ajit Pai for championing the revisions as overdue recognition of the vast changes in the programming marketplace, thanks to the fragmentation of viewing across hundreds of channels. Broadcasters feel the CTA rules are out of date in a world where so many young viewers watch niche cable channels and on-demand programming. The obligation to carry low-rated children’s programming has economic consequences at a time when stations are already dealing with shrinking profit margins.

“NAB thanks the FCC for modernizing its kidvid rules to allow broadcasters to better serve children and communities,” the National Assn. of Broadcasters said in a statement. “Chairman Pai and Commissioner (Michael) O’Rielly deserve enormous credit for championing common-sense regulations designed for the way children and families consume video in the 21st century.”

The commission said it will begin further study of proposed changes to allow broadcasters to satisfy their kidvid obligations through “efforts to sponsor children’s programming aired on other in-market stations,” the FCC said.

FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks voted against the rule changes. Rosenworcel said the lack of affordable access to pay TV and broadband service for some viewers means that broadcast TV remains a vital and primary source of news and entertainment for many families.

“Shame on us for deciding that (the changing marketplace) has rendered children’s television policies obsolete. Shame on us for using this as an excuse to cut children’s television and make it harder for parents to find safe content on the screen,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “That’s what we do here. Today the FCC decides that we can cut these policies because in the internet age they are no longer needed. Nothing could be further than the truth.”

(Pictured: FCC chairman Ajit Pai)

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