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June 22 2018

Making Kids Programming Better Through Common-Sense Broadcast TV Reforms

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Ever wondered what happened to those fantastic Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that taught us how a bill becomes a law or the catchy “Conjunction Junction” song?

Thankfully they live on YouTube here and here, but there could be a reason our kids won’t grow up seeing them on broadcast tv along with other cartoons that made Saturday mornings so special.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations have micromanaged the timing, length, and content that broadcasters provide for kids gradually reducing different options that might be more appealing than what we have now.

Those regulations grew out of the 1990 Children’s Television Act that required broadcasters to air educational programming to children. So-called “Kid Vid” mandates removed the flexibility that broadcasters had over what content they could show their audiences and imposed heavy paperwork burdens on programming schedules that once submitted can’t be changed - even for breaking news or other higher-interest programming.

The FCC has a chance to correct this and will consider a proposal to deregulate children’s programming on broadcast channels.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly explained in the Wall Street Journal what they want to accomplish:

The issue is the 1990 “Kid Vid” rules, which compel networks to air educational programming and limit the amount of advertising they can run during the shows. The FCC has strengthened the mandate many times since its passage, making children’s programming less viable.

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The first way to strike this balance is to eliminate the elements of Kid Vid that don’t serve children’s needs. One example is the requirement that shows be 30 minutes long and regularly scheduled. Instead, broadcasters should have the option to show children short features, like the “Schoolhouse Rock” segment on how a bill becomes law or the kid-friendly news story on the dangers of opioids that one network affiliate told me he was forced to can because it wasn’t scheduled regularly.

The reformed rules should also streamline the reporting requirements for local broadcasters. One broadcaster told me her company spends 25 hours each quarter complying, sending the FCC nearly 50 pages that are seldom reviewed. An overabundance of paperwork saps stations of resources to generate better programming.

Another angle to this issue is the abundance of choices that parents can access to provide their kids with educational programming.

Public Broadcasting, cable networks including the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and HBO Go, all offer educational children’s programming 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Most families don’t get their children’s programming through over-the-air television, which makes the original Kid Vid rules outdated.

There is legitimate concern that scaling back FCC regulations may lead to less kid-friendly programming for poor households that don’t have cable or internet access.

To ensure that families don’t fall between the cracks one idea the commissioner floated in his essay is to allow broadcasters to air their Kid Vid programming on their multicast channels. These are accessible digital avenues that allow networks to air multiple programs simultaneously.

We will be watching to see what happens as the FCC considers scaling back these regulations.

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IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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