After two years of legal challenges and negotiations, the FCC's new children's television rules went into effect on January 2, 2007. The new regulations and policies, which are modified from the set the commission adopted in 2004, break down into roughly five categories.
First, the display of most commercial website addresses is now counted against a broadcaster's commercial time limits if they are displayed during program material or during promotional material not counted as commercial time. Further, promotions with website addresses must be clearly separated from programming material. This new website rule does not apply to addresses displayed during public service announcements, station identifications or emergency announcements.
Second, the new host-selling rule bars broadcasters from displaying website addresses in children's programming if the website uses characters from the program to sell merchandise or services. The rule includes an exception for websites that separate the portion of the website that sells merchandise featuring a program-related character from the portion of the website related to the program itself.
Third, the definition of "commercial matter" used in the commercial time limits has changed. Commercial matter now includes programming promotions, unless a promotion is for other children's or age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel, or for other "E/I" programming appearing on any channel.
Fourth, the commission's new preemptions policy requires each network to tell the FCC Media Bureau once a year how many core E/I programming preemptions the network expects for the following year. Broadcasters, however, will not be limited by a defined cap on preemptions, as the commission had decided originally. After wide criticism, the FCC reversed course and said it will continue making case-by-case determinations of whether a broadcaster has engaged in excessive preemptions of children's programming.
Finally, the new rules impose core E/I programming requirements on digital broadcasters with multicast streams. Digital broadcasters must air additional core programming, either on their main channel or on a multicast feed, for each free multicast channel they offer. The amount of additional programming required increases in proportion to the number of additional hours of free programming offered, up to an additional three hours per week for each 24-hour free multicast program stream. No more than 50 percent of the core programming counted toward these new requirements can be repeat episodes that have aired within the previous seven days on either a station's main program stream or on another of the station's free digital program streams.
The commission also announced that it will revise the Children's Television Programming Report, FCC Form 398, to incorporate the newly implemented rules. Television licensees will be required to file their quarterly reports with the revised form starting April 10, 2007.