New FCC Rules Hamper Kids' TV Networks

Kids' TV networks are looking at some real financial damage should proposed Federal Communications Commission rules take effect in January. The new rules are pushing commercial kids' programmers to become like public broadcasters--and perhaps even that isn't far enough.

The FCC--which already sets limits on advertising to children in shows--now wants to limit the promotional time that networks can use to tout other shows as well as their kids-related Web sites.

The FCC also wants to continue the requirement of three hours a week of educational or cultural programming for a broadcaster's primary and digital multicast channels.

And there's no room for any funny business: education programs must be regularly scheduled, and can be pre-empted only 10% of the time--typically when networks on Sundays give their sports programming early starts.

The 1990 Children's Television Act says stations and cable operators can't air more than 10.5 minutes of commercials per hour on the weekends, and no more than 12 minutes per hour during the week. New rules say that promotional time is now limited and gets put into the advertising weekly time constraints.



Having fewer commercials to sell is the main reason that major kids' programmers want these rules stopped, as well as the fact that major media companies' Internet businesses will be hurt because the rules will limit how much time Web sites can be promoted.

Major kids' programmers Walt Disney and Viacom have been taking strong notice, and looking to challenge the proposed rules.

All this seems like a lot of oversight from the FCC from an editorial and business point of view. One wonders why it doesn't go even further and ban all advertising and promotion to kids--which is ultimately where it would go if it could.

That would be the best protection for young children's minds--one of the major goals of the FCC. With little or no commerce coming from these shows, kids' TV--already the most regulated content on commercial TV--would become like public broadcasting. Then the only way to make money would be in licensing--which is what is done with public broadcasting children's shows.

Already both Disney and Viacom have some special commercial-free networks. Banning advertising on all channels would, of course, severely hurt these companies.

But how can you argue against protecting children? You can't. The real question is, at what age should you start marketing to kids--when they're 11-years-old? 12? Once that's decided, then the other details--like restrictions on promo and advertising time--would take care of themselves. These are the real subjects FCC and TV programmers should consider when making radical changes in kids' TV.

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