As we previously reported, many of the revised children’s TV rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) in July are to go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and we now know what that effective date will be: September 16, 2019. That effective date will apply to the changes in permissible times of day for core programs, the changes in the total number of hours of core educational and informational (“E/I”) programming that must be aired when a station has multiple digital streams to fall within the safe harbor for license renewal, and the increased flexibility in allowing some shorter or not regularly scheduled programming to be considered as part of a station’s performance.
What will not be effective, however, until Office of Management and Budget approval is obtained, includes the removal of the requirement to instruct program guides to list a program as E/I and give target ages, allowing noncommercial stations to stop including the E/I bug in programming, changing commercial stations’ filing of children’s television programming reports and commercial compliance reports from quarterly to annual, and the new pre-emption policy which requires on-air announcements of rescheduled days and times of programs. Essentially, anything which requires some form of communication from licensees to the FCC or the public remains unchanged for the time being. Therefore, until further notice, which likely will come sometime relatively shortly after the OMB comment period closes on November 7, quarterly filing requirements will stay in place, unless the Media Bureau should decide to suspend them.
The Media Bureau also will need to revise the children’s television report form and have the new version approved by OMB as well. In light of the fact that the revised record-keeping requirements cannot become effective until close to the end of the year, it might make sense to implement the new rules in the New Year, with the first annual report due January 30, 2021, but we will have to wait and see what the Commission does.
Additionally, the FCC is seeking further comment on the creation of a framework under which a broadcaster could satisfy its children’s programming obligations by relying in part on special efforts to produce or support Core Programming aired on another station or stations in the market. The Children’s Television Act (CTA) has always permitted the Commission to consider a licensee’s special sponsorship efforts, in addition to its own programming, in evaluating whether a licensee has served the educational and informational needs of children. On the other hand, the Commission has never had any rules or stated policies as to how much credit it would give, how much support of how many programs would be required, or any other specifics of how a station could get favorable consideration of sponsorship efforts. Because of the uncertainty, stations have steered clear of any attempt to use sponsorship of other stations’ programming for their own license renewals in favor of simply complying with the much clearer safe harbor for their own programming.
The Commission now has invited commenters to submit proposals detailing a specific framework under which special sponsorship efforts may be considered as part of a broadcaster’s license renewal. Some have characterized this inquiry as looking toward further deregulation, but it is really more of an attempt to implement in some practical way an unused provision that has been on the books for nearly 30 years. One thought behind this approach may be that while there is a large quantity of “E/I” children’s programming available, the quality of some of that programming is lacking. Allowing stations to claim renewal credit for their support of such programming might cut down on its quantity but improve its quality – something like clearing the weeds from a garden and fertilizing the flowers.
Comments are due on September 16, 2019, and reply comments are due on October 15, 2019.