Could the FCC’s children’s programming requirements (colloquially known as “kidvid”) be on their way out? If Commissioner O’Rielly gets his way, it seems that they might be; Or at the very least they will be subject to some significant revision. In a blog post released on Friday, O’Rielly argued that the rules are outdated, impose unnecessary burdens on broadcasters, and are ripe for review, and eyes eliminating (or significantly reducing) the requirements they place on broadcasters.
Since the 1990’s, commercial broadcast television stations have been required by the Communications Act (as amended by the Children’s Television Act of 1990) to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 and under. While the Act requires only that the Commission consider, in granting license renewal applications, how a station has served these needs, the Commission has adopted rules providing much more specific requirements.
In 1996, the Commission adopted a “processing guideline” requiring stations to air at least three hours of “core” educational/informational programming to receive staff-level processing of their renewal applications. In addition to these programming requirements, licensees are required to file reports (Form 398) each quarter providing detailed information on the educational/informational programming that they broadcast. Licensees must then separately place a record in their public files certifying that the core programming (and any other programming targeted to children) met the limitations on the number and lengths of commercial advertising within the programming. In addition to the ongoing regulatory burden of filing these forms and certifications, in recent license renewal cycles, failure to file these forms has also been a source of numerous fines imposed on broadcast licensees.
Under current law, the Commission cannot, on its own, entirely remove broadcaster’s obligation to air educational/informational children’s programming, since that requirement is statutory. Nonetheless, Commissioner O’Rielly now argues that it is time for the Commission to address what is within its control and reduce some of the burdens the kidvid rules place on broadcasters outside of the general statutory requirement. In his post, O’Rielly argues that in the current media marketplace, viewers get the great majority of their children’s programming from sources other than commercial broadcast stations (e.g., online sources, cable channels, NCE stations) or from those stations through on-demand, non-linear methods. In light of these many options for viewing children’s programming, O’Reilly argues that the current kidvid rules do not provide significant benefits.
To the contrary, according to O’Rielly , the kidvid rules continue to impose significant burdens on broadcasters. O’Rielly argues that the current rules: 1) displace other, potentially more valuable, programming; 2) prevent broadcasters from airing shorter or non-regularly scheduled children’s programming (which would not qualify as “core”); and 3) prevent the development of internet content. In addition, and as all commercial broadcasters would probably agree, they impose significant paperwork burdens. In light of the costs and little to no benefits, O’Rielly argues that it is time to eliminate (or at least rollback) a number of these kidvid regulations, and urges the Commission to do so as part of its ongoing media modernization efforts.
While a blog post from one Commissioner certainly does not constitute official Commission action, in light of Chairman Pai’s clearly deregulatory bent and the Republican majority on the Commission, it would certainly not be surprising to see a proceeding in the near future examining, and ultimately reducing, the kidvid rules.
Stay tuned to CommLawBlog for developments.