Children’s Television Rule Changes Near?

Posted on January 31st, 2018 by

When it comes to broadcast deregulation, the past 12 months have been unprecedented, with numerous rules being pared back or tossed out into the abyss of archaic and nonsensical things. Amongst all this deregulatory fever, we think we’ve detected a bit of a pattern, especially when the FCC decides to make major changes to a rule that might be a bit sticky because of the subject matter or differing views. In those situations, we typically have seen a sitting Commissioner blog about the rule, noting the burdens it imposes or how a changed landscape has rendered it less than effective, even nonsensical. That blog post usually sets the stage for conversation, followed by a proposed notice of rulemaking to change or delete a rule.

One broadcast rule has remained untouched during Chairman Pai’s initial year – the Children’s Television Rule – which requires TV stations to air 3 hours per week, on average, of informational and educational programming for children under a certain age. In fact, that rule, originally adopted in the 1990s, has remained unchanged for over two decades, with only one “review” focused on the types of programs being aired to make absolutely sure the rule was being followed. No one has asked whether the rule is still needed, or needed to the extent the FCC’s rules have required.

A certain recent blog post makes us think this is all about to change. Commissioner O’Rielly’s blog post of January 26 points to the burdens of the current children’s television rule requirements and questions its continued need. His points are valid. There’s only one wrinkle here – Congress adopted the Children’s Television Act of 1990, so Congress – not the FCC — would have to kill the requirement that TV stations air children’s programming. But the FCC – only after Congress had first made clear it meant to impose no minimum hour requirement but then changed its mind and pushed for one – implemented the Act with a wide-ranging and detailed rule that addresses the amount of children’s programming, the way it must be aired, the criteria for a program to qualify, and the quarterly report that must be filed to certify compliance.

So, ALL of that could change if the FCC finds it unnecessarily burdensome today, or is able to streamline the requirements in light of the web-based children’s programming available now in the new digital media age.

Children’s video programming? Important. Making TV stations produce or pay for certain amounts of it and file quarterly reports, or risk being fined, when most children’s programming is consumed from other sources? Silly. We share Commissioner O’Rielly’s hope for a major streamlining of TV station contributions to the children’s programming landscape.