It’s Time To Revisit Children’s TV Programming Regulations

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Liam Sigaud Writer for the American Consumer Institute
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to enact important reforms to rules related to children’s educational programming on broadcast television, but detractors are spreading misinformation in an attempt to undermine this effort.

The crux of the so-called “Kid Vid” rules is that broadcasters must provide at least three hours per week of educational content for children. This is a relic of a different media landscape and no longer applies to the environment in which America’s children are growing and learning.

These rules were adopted in the 1990s, long before the advent of Netflix, YouTube and high-speed Internet. As with so many sectors of American life, government regulators haven’t kept up with the pace of societal change. Given the plethora of options available to parents, the market for educational content is clearly strong enough to thrive without the crutch of archaic government red tape.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly has proposed thoughtful improvements to these regulations to reduce the burden on broadcasters and benefit consumers.

Critics of the proposal have argued that the quality of children’s programming is likely to suffer if these mandates are lifted and that many low-income households will lose their only access to enriching children’s content. Both claims are false. The vast majority of households — even low-income ones — have access to cable TV or high-speed Internet, either through home-based networks or on mobile devices. Today, parents have a nearly unlimited supply of low-cost, high-quality content at their disposal.

And while these rules don’t do any good, they certainly cause plenty of harm. For starters, by imposing programming that audiences don’t necessarily want, these requirements squeeze some broadcasters’ schedules so tightly that local stations have eliminated local newscasts in order to satisfy “Kid Vid” mandates. Preventing broadcasters from responding to dynamic demand trends depresses their value, shrinks their audience and compromises their ability to finance costly news and cover local community events.

The rigidity of “Kid Vid” rules, which require that children’s core programming must not run less than 30 minutes, also precludes potentially beneficial content. Broadcasters are discouraged from investing in short, TED talk-style videos that capitalize on children’s attention spans. Educational, animated skits like Schoolhouse Rock, for example, would not satisfy “Kid Vid” requirements. And because “Kid Vid” programming must be regularly scheduled, broadcasters are also deterred from airing specials for children.

To demonstrate compliance to the FCC, broadcasters are required to file enormous amounts of paperwork, adding to their costs, distracting staff time from creating quality programming and serving no clear purpose. For example, in the first quarter of 2017, a group that owns 15 local TV stations submitted 473 pages to the FCC describing what children’s programming they had aired. Since most users can easily refer to their TV guide to learn about upcoming programs, parents looking for educational content are unlikely to turn to esoteric filings. So why maintain burdensome reporting requirements?

The “Kid Vid” rules, if they ever were effective at broadening access to quality children’s programming, have outlived their usefulness. The age of the internet has expanded the selection of educational content available to children beyond what anyone in the 1990s could have imagined.

When you also consider their adverse effects on broadcasters and TV viewers, it’s clear that these rules need serious revision.

Liam Sigaud writes for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.