Children's Television Act
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The Children's Television Act is a rule that was enacted in 1990 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was designed to increase the amount of educational children's programming on United States television. The Act requires full-service television stations that offer children's television programming to serve the educational and informational needs of children through its overall television programming, including programs that are specifically designed to serve these needs (or "core" educational programming). In August 1996, the FCC adopted new rules to strengthen the enforcement of this statutory mandate. These new rules were:
- Adopt several public information initiatives designed to give parents greater information about the core educational programs being aired by television stations (these initiatives are explained in greater detail below).
- Set forth a clear definition of what type of programs qualify as core programs: they generally must have serving the educational and informational needs of children as a significant purpose; be aired between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; be a regularly scheduled weekly program; and be at least 30 minutes in length.
- Establish a guideline that calls for every full-service television station to air at least three hours per week of core educational programming.
A central goal of the rules in the FCC's revision to the Act is to provide parents and other members of the public with greater information about educational television programs, in order to help parents guide their children's television viewing and also encourage an ongoing dialogue between the public and television stations about the station's performance under the Children's Television Act. To help accomplish this, the FCC's 1996 rules require commercial television stations to identify core educational programs at the beginning of the program (such as with a verbal announcement or an icon), and to provide information identifying these programs to publishers of program guides and television listings.
The rules also require commercial full-service television stations to complete quarterly reports regarding their educational programming and to make these reports available to the public via their studios, public libraries, and/or the station's website.
The FCC's rules require stations to complete a Children's Television Programming Report (Form 398) every quarter.
History of children's television regulation
Concern over the impact that television had on children began when television was still a new medium for media. During the 1950s, many individuals, particularly parents, asked their legislators to do something about the potentially harmful effects of television viewing on young people. There has been academic research that has been initiated since this time to monitor, analyze and explain the relationships between television and children, although the impact of television on academic performance continues to be debated in scholarly research.
The first attempt to address these concerns were during Congressional hearings in 1952 that addressed violence. Besides the Congress, there were government commissions that also pursued this agenda. Included in these discussions were the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and advocacy groups formed by concerned citizens. The FCC intended to change a number of policies regarding children's programming, but no serious action took place until the enactment of the Children's Television Act in 1990.
The Children's Television Act was written to enhance television for young viewers. Some research reveals some downsides to the act. For example, after the act was passed, although there was more programming geared towards children, stations actually provided less diverse educational shows than they had before. To prevent this problem, the FCC required stations to keep logs that described in detail why the shows were educational or informational. However, many stations failed to keep these records or have any method for accurate recording. More than 25 percent of stations failed to record the time, date, or length of programming. The FCC did little to regulate these logs up until 1993, but later on, came up with certain rules and regulation like the Safe harbor in order to regulate contents for younger audience. Another downside was Congress provided little direction towards the implementation of the act, only saying that programming had to be specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children. According to a 1998 Annenberg Foundation report, the number of network television shows labeled 'highly educational' dropped from 43 percent to 29 percent since the enactment of the act. A research report from Georgetown University said that one issue contributing to this was educational television programming was defined too broadly. For example, programming that was only academic or that covered pro-social issues counted towards station requirements. Another issue was that traditional ideas of what should be taught to children, such as the alphabet or number systems were lost. An increase in shows focusing on social issues were aired. Writers wrote stories that often were not academically sound for young viewers, because they were not trained in writing for this audience. One show that was an exemption to this rule is The Magic School Bus, because it combined effective writing and education for children.
Another result revealed in the report was that as a result of the act, many local broadcast stations dropped their locally produced educational shows and bought blocks of pre-produced children's shows from the major networks. This was largely due to the fact that the rules in the act stated that stations only had to meet the requirement of a minimum of three hours a week of educational programming. Many of the local stations thought in terms of profits and eliminated their own shows, which were more educational than the syndicated ones, to save money and still meet the minimum requirements for re-licensing.
Programming for profit
A report by Scott Conley showed that the average child has watched between 10,000 and 15,000 hours of television, and over 200,000 commercials by the time they are 18. His research showed that commercials typically were for the interest of advertisers and had no concern for the needs of children.
According to the act, commercials had to be geared towards children 12 years of age or younger. No more than 10.5 minutes on weekends, and 12 minutes during the week were allowed per hour on the air. Cable systems were required to keep records of their following of this rule so that regulators, such as the FCC and the public, were allowed to monitor their behavior. The main reason for this restriction was that research demonstrated that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the program they are watching and commercials, most have little or no understanding of commercials' persuasive intent, and that this makes children highly vulnerable to claims and appeals by advertisers. Food commercials make up a large percentage of advertisements geared towards children. Marketers are interested in youth as consumers because of their spending power through their parents, their influence, and as adult consumers in the future. Many techniques and channels are used to reach youth, starting when they are toddlers, in order to establish brand building and purchasing behavior.
One study found food advertisements accounted for 47.8% of commercials. These advertisements advertised foods that were high in fat and sugar. Compared with data collected before new regulations took place, children now watch more commercials of a shorter length.
Other actions that networks took to increase their profit while implementing the act was that some networks chose to select programs for their marketing value. Producers selected series more often when they were related to a hit movie or pop culture icon, such as if the show featured a character that could be sold as a marketable action figure.
A researcher for the popular children's show Dora the Explorer discussed how preschoolers interact with new episodes of the show. For example, researchers try to determine whether children are paying attention or interacting with the screen. They try to figure out what draws kids' attention to the show, and what elements can be adjusted to increased the potential viewership. Things such as adding more close-ups of the main characters, called 'money shots', are intended to embed the face into children's minds. This can increase product sales. Shows such as Dora sell millions of dollars of products a year, from dolls to sleeping bags, so researchers highly value this information.
According to Judi Cook, an assistant professor at Salem University, there were issues with the amount of children's commercials for these marketable products that were aired in the Boston televisuib market. Cook watched the programming on one of the stations for a day, and learned that 80 out of 97 advertisements appeared before or after children's programming.
Recent changes to the act
In 2006, the FCC decided on rules related to the display of websites during children's programming. Under the guidelines, there were a number of criteria that the website must meet. One is that it offered non-commercial related content. Also, the page has to clearly divide into sections commercial and non-commercial content. Thirdly, the website directed to can not be used for e-commerce, advertising or other commercial advertising. Finally, if a site was advertising characters from a show that was airing alongside it, the display of this website address was prohibited.
The Academy of Political and Social Science found in a report covering the current state of children's television broadcasts between 1996 and 1997 that only 38.8 percent of programming could be considered 'high-quality'. A quarter, or 23.2 percent were found to be 'moderate' quality. A whole 37 percent of programs were found to be low quality. The research on programming quality took into account both educational content of shows and also the reactions of the children and their parents.
At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing in July 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke about the new landscape of video broadcasting and television. He recommended empowering parents with tools and information to determine the appropriate video content for their children rather than government regulation of video content.
At the same hearing, James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a non-partisan, not-for profit organization that advocates for educational children’s media content, said there were ways to regulate children’s media content without limiting broadcasters rights to free speech.
U.S. television networks with E/I-compliant children's programs
Current children's programming blocks
In American television, an "E/I" Digital on-screen graphic or "bug" is placed in a corner of the screen indicating a children's television program that meets federal educational and informational guidelines.
- CBS Dream Team (CBS) – Debuted in September 2013 and leased to Litton Entertainment, the CBS Dream Team provides three hours of live-action children's programming on Saturday mornings that meets E/I guidelines.
- Litton's Weekend Adventure (syndicated exclusively to ABC affiliates) – Produced by Litton Entertainment and launched in September 2011, the block provides a three hours of live-action programming aimed at family audiences that meet E/I regulations.
- NBC Kids and MiTelemundo (NBC/Telemundo) – Produced by Sprout and launched in July 2011, the two blocks air weekend mornings (the English language NBC Kids airs Saturdays on NBC, the Spanish language MiTelemundo airs Saturdays and Sundays on Telemundo). Sprout operates as a 24-hour standalone channel available to cable and satellite providers.
- PBS Kids (PBS) – PBS broadcasts children's programming for up to twelve hours every weekday, most of its member stations also air such programs on weekend mornings. Some PBS member stations operate a 24-hour digital subchannel carrying children's programs broadcast by PBS or syndicated to individual public television stations.
- qubo (Ion Television) – Qubo is a three-hour children's program block airing on Friday mornings on Ion Television; Until July 2012, additional blocks under this brand aired Saturday mornings on NBC and Saturday and Sunday mornings on Telemundo (the latter featuring Spanish dubbed versions of the shows seen on the Ion and NBC blocks). Qubo Channel is a separate 24-hour multicast network that airs on Ion Television's owned-and-operated stations and certain affiliates, featuring some programs featured on the Ion block. Qubo Channel is not currently available on all cable providers, although Ion Media Networks has sought must-carry status for the channel.
- Vortexx (The CW) – Debuted in September 2012 and produced by Saban Brands, Vortexx provides five hours of children's programming on Saturday mornings (with the exception of the first hour of the block, most shows do not meet E/I criteria).
Past children's programming blocks
- ABC Kids (formerly Disney's One Saturday Morning) (ABC) – Aired Saturday mornings from 1997 to 2011; in its last years, the block aired programming from basic cable network Disney Channel. Some series within the block were preempted by select ABC affiliates (including those owned by Hearst Television, Cox Media Group and Allbritton Communications Company) due to a lack of E/I content.
- CBS Kidshow (CBS) – Aired from 1997 to 1999; the block featured children's programming on Saturday mornings from Canadian production company Nelvana.
- Cookie Jar Toons (This TV) – Aired daily from 2008 to 2013; the block featured children's programming from Cookie Jar Group (E/I programs aired under the "Cookie Jar Toons" banner, while non-E/I shows aired under the sub-block This is for Kids). It was replaced by a three-hour block of syndicated E/I shows on Sunday mornings after Tribune Broadcasting assumed part-ownership of This TV from Weigel Broadcasting in November 2013.
- Cookie Jar TV (formerly KOL Secret Slumber Party and KEWLopolis) (CBS) – Aired Saturday mornings from 2006 to 2013; the block provided three hours of entertainment-based live action and animated children's programming from Cookie Jar Group that met E/I guidelines; was replaced by the CBS Dream Team in September 2013.
- Cookie Jar Kids Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) (Syndicated) – Aired from 2002 to 2011; marketed as a syndication package of entertainment-based live action and animated children's programming from DiC/Cookie Jar Group.
- DiC Kids Network (Syndication) – Provides daily children's programming.
- Discovery Kids on NBC, formerly TNBC (NBC) – Saturday mornings, often airs shows from Discovery Kids.
- Kids' WB (The WB/The CW) – Aired from 1995 to 2006 on The WB and 2006 to 2008 on The CW; originated as a block of children's programming that aired on weekday and Saturday mornings; the weekday block was dropped in December 2005, and the remaining Saturday morning block moved to The CW when it debuted in September 2006 (only certain programs within the weekday and Saturday blocks met E/I criteria); was replaced by The CW4Kids in 2008.
- Nickelodeon en Telemundo (Telemundo) – Aired from 1999 to 2002; the Saturday morning block provided Spanish-dubbed versions of children's programming from Nickelodeon.
- Nick Jr. on CBS (formerly Nick on CBS and CBS Kidshow) (CBS) – Aired from 1999 to 2006; the Saturday morning block featured children's programming from the basic cable network Nickelodeon.
- PAX Kids (Pax TV) – Aired from 1998 to 2000; this block featured religious and secular children's programs and aired on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
- Toonzai (formerly The CW4Kids) (The CW) – Aired from 2008 to 2010 and produced by 4Kids Entertainment; this block featured children's programming for five hours on Saturday mornings (only the first hour of the block featured shows that met E/I criteria).
- UPN Kids (UPN) – Aired from 1995 to 1999; this block provided children's programming on weekday and Sunday mornings (only select programs met E/I criteria).
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