FCC Adopts Digital Kids Programming Rules

Sep 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a blow to the broadcasting industry, the Federal Communications Commission today adopted regulations that will require broadcasters who use their digital TV channels to multicast programming streams to offer up to 18 hours per week of kids educational programs.

In a unanimous vote, the FCC also changed its children’s TV rules to require analog and digital broadcasters to begin identifying their educational and informational programming on-air with an “E/I” symbol that appears throughout the programming.

In addition, the FCC barred cable operators and analog and digital broadcasters from displaying Web site addresses during kids programming unless the Web site offers a “substantial amount of bona fide program-related or other noncommercial content, is not primarily intended for commercial purposes and the page viewers are first directed to on the site is not used at all for commercial purposes.”

Under the FCC’s existing children’s TV rules, analog broadcasters are required to air three hours of educational or informational children’s TV programming each week. The beefed-up obligation for digital multicasting, which will take effect in a year, essentially increases that obligation “proportionally to the increase in free video programming offered by the broadcaster on multicast channels,” according to the FCC.

The effect is that a broadcaster who multicasts six 24-hour digital streams will be required to provide 18 hours per week of children’s programming. The requirement is lessened proportionally for channels that are multicast less than 24 hours a day.

The FCC said digital broadcasters will have flexibility to put most of their children’s TV programming on a single multicast channel if they wish, as long as at least three hours per week remain on the broadcaster’s main channel. Under the FCC’s existing rules, programming that broadcasters use to meet their children’s TV obligation must be regularly scheduled. In its vote today, the FCC announced that from now on, programming pre-empted more than 10 percent of the time will not be considered regularly scheduled.

The E/I symbol requirement and the prohibitions on Web site tie-ins will go into effect 30 days after the agency’s order is published in the Federal Register.

Eddie Fritts, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement, “NAB recognizes that providing children’s educational programming is one of many ways that a television broadcaster fulfills its public interest obligation. However, it is unfortunate the FCC would adopt new digital television mandates before completing its reconsideration of whether cable operators are required to actually pass through that programming to viewers. The hard reality is this: Absent a strong DTV multicast carriage rule for cable, there will be less incentive for broadcasters to create new educational shows for children and other public interest programming. NAB urges the Commission to fulfill the intent of Congress and ensure that cable operators allow all free DTV broadcast programming [to] flow to consumers.”

A broadcast industry source told TelevisionWeek that Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s backing of the sweeping new regulatory regime was “just a continuation of the payback to broadcasters for thwarting his ownership deregulation.”

Electronics Sales See Growth: The Consumer Electronics Association reported that personal computers and digital televisions were two key growth factors driving sales of consumer electronics products past $100 billion in 2003, a record. Sales of flat-panel TVs alone were more than $2 billion in 2003. Sales for all TVs, both analog and digital, should grow 17 percent this year to $13.6 billion, CEA said.