Saturday morning cartoons—once a staple of weekend TV entertainment for children—largely have become a thing of the past, thanks to an ever-changing digital media landscape.
Now, in an attempt to modernize its regulations, the Federal Communications Commission plans this week to reassess the rules that required the regular airing of children’s educational programming, in response to changes in media consumption habits and the plethora of available educational children’s programs on platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and OnDemand.
In 1990, Congress enacted the Children’s Television Act, aimed at expanding the “the quantity of educational and informational broadcast television programming for children.”
The enactment of that legislation led the FCC to establish its regulations in 1996 on children’s programming, which currently require broadcasters to include three regularly scheduled hours of educational programming for youths 16 and under every week in order to renew their FCC broadcast licenses.
Last updated in 2006, the so-called “Kid Vid” rules are now facing scrutiny with the rise of digital entertainment mediums, such as Netflix and Hulu, serving as the primary outlet for children’s home entertainment. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that nowadays, “the overall effect of the Kid Vid rules has been to force networks to prioritize less-popular content.”
“Some of this programming attracts reliable viewership among older children, but younger children largely aren’t watching,” O’Rielly said, adding that “industry sources tell me the [viewership] numbers are abysmal for the 2-to-11 age group.”
Brooke Ericson, a spokeswoman for the FCC, said that the commission was open to changes to the current rules and is looking to “modernize [them] in a bipartisan way.” A July 12 meeting is simply the first step in addressing the issue, she said.
“[FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai is committed to reassessing the media landscape,” Ericson said.
In his op-ed, O’Rielly noted that “several Democratic senators” had told the FCC that “Kid Vid must be focused on helping low-income families who lack access to pay TV and online streaming options.”
“[Only] one-half of 1 percent of American households with kids do not have access to broadband,” Ericson said, citing Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., as two lawmakers who had expressed reservations over the proposed rule change.
“They don’t think the market has changed,” she said, calling the senators’ concerns “unfounded.”
James Gattuso, a senior research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, says that the current “Kid Vid” rules do a “lot of damage to the First Amendment.”
“Where did Congress and the FCC get the power to tell a broadcaster what to broadcast?” he said, criticizing the regulations as “discouraging to innovation.”