The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched an inquiry into children’s television programming rule compliance. In a public notice released last week, the FCC announced that it is “seeking comment on whether broadcasters are complying with the letter and intent of the [Children’s Television Act] in terms of, among other things, the amount and quality of core children’s programming being provided and the extent of preemption of such programming.” Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register (expected in a week or two) with reply comments due 15 days thereafter.

The Commission recently revised its children’s television programming rules, including implementing new web site address display restrictions that took effect earlier this year and clarifying how the rules apply to digital television broadcasters. More recently, the Commission entered into an unprecedented $24 million dollar consent decree with a Spanish-language broadcaster in order to resolve petitions to deny filed against pending license renewal applications relating to alleged children’s television programming rule violations. This week’s public notice suggests that the Commission is considering whether, and how to, better enforce its children’s television programming rules generally.

The “KidVid” Rules

The FCC’s children’s television rules were adopted pursuant to the Children’s Television Act of 1990, in which Congress directed the Commission to increase the amount of educational and informational programming for children available on television. Under the FCC’s children’s television rules, television broadcasters must air at least three hours of “core programming” per week and file quarterly reports with the Commission identifying their core programming and their other efforts to comply with their educational and informational television programming obligations. The FCC’s children’s television rules also limit the amount of time broadcasters and cable operators may devote to commercial matter during children’s programs.

The Commission has defined “educational and informational television programming” as any television programming that furthers the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under in any respect, including the child's intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs. “Core programming” is programming that is specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children, which also satisfies the following additional criteria: (1) It has serving the educational and informational needs of children ages 16 and under as a significant purpose; (2) It is aired between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.; (3) It is a regularly scheduled weekly program; (4) It is at least 30 minutes in length; (5) The program is identified as specifically designed to educate and inform children by the display on the television screen throughout the program of the symbol E/I; (6) The educational and informational objective and the target child audience are specified in writing in the broadcaster's Children's Television Programming Report, as described in § 73.3526(e)(11)(iii); and (7) Instructions for listing the program as educational/ informational, including an indication of the age group for which the program is intended, are provided by the broadcaster to publishers of program guides, as described in § 73.673.

Request for Comments

Among the questions on which the FCC is seeking comments are:

  • Are licensees complying with the Children’s Television Act?
  • Does the programming that licensees have reported as core children's programming generally meet the Commission’s standards? 
  • Are the core programming criteria listed in the Commission’s rules adequate to properly define educational and informational programming?
  • Do these criteria fulfill the requirements of the Children’s Television Act? Should the Commission consider additional criteria?
  • Does the current level of preemption affect compliance with the Children’s Television Act and Congressional intent? 
  • In what other ways are licensees complying, or not, with the Children’s Television Act and the Commission’s rules related to children’s programming?