The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote July 10 on possible easing of rules enacted in 1996 that require broadcasters to air a certain amount of children’s TV programming.
Judging by statements from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the likely outcome will be a much looser regulatory environment, given the multitude of platforms where kids and families can access content on demand. In a blog post this week calling rules changes “long overdue,” Pai wrote that the so-called “KidVid” shift is part of an overall drive toward “updating our rules to match the realities of the media marketplace.”
The National Association of Broadcasters, a major trade group, saluted the efforts of the FCC in a statement Thursday. “While NAB believes the record supports even further relief from KidVid rules, we appreciate the flexibility these revised rules will provide to broadcasters,” spokesman Dennis Wharton said.
The children’s TV marketplace in the U.S. has seen wild pendulum swings over the decades. After a free-for-all in the 1950s and 1960s, when marketers used shows to sell merchandise. Activists then gained significant traction and by the start of the 1970s, commercial-free public TV shows like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood dominated. Even so, at regular intervals since, there are outbursts of complaints about the commercialization of children’s programming, which led to the 1996 requirements.
Broadcasters, meanwhile, are required under current rules to air a certain amount of programming deemed educational on their main channels. Ratings long ago migrated to Disney, Nickelodeon and PBS, but even those leaders struggle amid the onslaught of digital and streaming competitors. Given the tiny ratings and the mounting pressure to monetize all dayparts, broadcasters are pushing for change, and the Republican-controlled FCC, which has rolled back a host of regulation in other areas, is poised to satisfy their concerns.
Digital subchannels, websites or streaming outlets could be where such fare is headed if the FCC does ease the regulations. CBS, NBC and Fox are among the broadcasters expressing support for a rollback. Each of their flagship broadcast networks still runs children’s programming blocks in order to comply with current law. Hearst-owned Litton Entertainment has teamed with multiple networks to produce their programming blocks, including NBC’s The More You Know initiative.
Several advocacy groups, including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, argued in a filing with the FCC that some 16 million households still rely on free, over-the-air broadcast TV.