In a 3-2 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled FCC voted Wednesday to ease rules governing children’s programming broadcasts.
The move, which had been widely expected, is the first update of the so-called “kid vid” restrictions since they were imposed nearly 30 years ago. In essence, the original aim of the rules was to ensure that educational programs would be widely available to American families, including via broadcast networks whose signals do not require a pay-TV subscription. After the vote, groups like Common Sense Media registered their objections to the shift.
The FCC’s official order effecting the change starts the window of time one hour earlier, at 6 a.m., when children’s programming can air, still through 10 p.m. (Broadcast networks licensed by the FCC must air three hours a week of such content.) It also allows up to 52 hours a year of educational specials or shortform programming to be counted as children’s programming.
Republicans driving for the rollback, notably FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, said the limitations were burdensome and out of step with the media landscape of 2019. Today, they argue, broadcasters now compete with YouTube, Netflix and a host of other outlets for kids fare that were not in play when the rules were drafted.
“Our family consumes a fair share of children-centric programming – whether its Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Peppa Pig or Thomas the Tank Engine,” O’Rielly wrote in a blog post in 2018, noting he is the father of a toddler. “But none of these shows are aired on commercial broadcast stations. In fact, I can’t think of the last time, if ever, we turned to a local broadcast television station for children’s programming.”
Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel, the two Democrats on the five-member commission, dissented. In a statement, Starks said: “The new rules will allow broadcasters to air less than one hour of regularly scheduled children’s programming per month on their most widely viewed primary stream. One third of a broadcaster’s annual hours can be moved to an unpopular multicast stream, and an additional third will not need to be regularly scheduled. What’s more, broadcasters are given the new ability to preempt children’s programming with an ill-defined category of live, locally produced programming not designed for children and still have that time count towards their core children’s programming hours. Taken together, broadcasters could theoretically reduce the amount of 30-minute, regularly scheduled programming airing on the primary stream to zero.”
Said Common Sense founder and CEO James Steyer: “Chairman Ajit Pai is making it clear for all to see that kids and families are not a priority for him. Under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the FCC has spent over a year finding every possible way to loosen requirements for broadcasters making it more difficult for low-income families to access educational kids content. To make matters worse, this was an opportunity for Chairman Pai’s FCC to strengthen the incentives for media companies to create quality educational content for kids. Instead, they took steps backward on every level, reinforcing that Pai is in the pockets of big media companies and has no interest in improving the lives of kids and families.”