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E/I, which stands for "educational and informational" (or "educational and informative"), refers to a type of children's television programming broadcast in the United States that incorporates educational content in some form. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that every full-service broadcast television station in the U.S. air at least three hours of these programs every week to retain their station license. The E/I program requirements were enacted as part of the Children's Television Act of 1990.
In addition, stations must identify such shows on-screen with an "E/I" bug placed in a corner of the screen, usually either in the form of plain text or an icon (as seen to the right); some broadcasters display the identification in appealing or "child-like" fonts. Originally, this was displayed only during the first minute of a program, or, as a separate announcement prior to the program, but since 2004, all E/I shows must display the icon during the entire duration of the show. Sometimes the bug does not show during commercial breaks (even so, some commercial broadcast networks continue to also identify E/I-compliant programs through announcements seen immediately before the show begins).
This requirement only applies to commercial and non-commercial broadcast television stations that are either licensed as a full-power or Class A outlet. Cable television channels are exempt from FCC regulations for television programming, although some do place an "E/I" bug or descriptor on programs containing educational content, mainly to differentiate E/I-compliant shows from non-compliant programs within electronic program guides and other program listings services. Collegiate institutions offer distance education, a curated form of educational television, which is unique to public and educational access cable channels and is also carried by some public television stations.
Determination of "E/I" criteria
What considers a show to comply as "E/I" is determined by the Federal Communications Commission, which enforces the regulations. The agency took a more hands-on role in enforcing the rules in 1996, after the first few years of the act were ineffective as stations claimed that programs such as The Jetsons, The Flintstones, G.I. Joe, daytime talk shows and Leave it to Beaver had educational elements.
At regular intervals, each full-service station submits a list of programs that it either currently airs or plans to air in the near-term which it feels will inform, as well as entertain, viewers below age 18, and must occasionally announce on-air that this public file is available to the public at the station's studio facility or on the station's website.
All children's programming on television is subject to limits on the amount of advertising that can be aired during the telecast. Stations can air no more than 12 minutes of advertisements each hour on weekdays and 10½ minutes per hour on weekends.
In addition, the FCC also has a very strict policy that an advertisement for a product tie-in for the program being aired is not allowed in any form, or else the entire program will be classified as a violating half-hour program length commercial according to the agency's definition, even if one second of a show's character or reference is seen in an advertisement. The individual station has the responsibility to comply with the standards and regulations, and report instances of it happening within their quarterly children's programming report, even if the programming is transmitted by a television network.
This has been demonstrated through several incidents where episodes of Pokémon airing on the former Kids' WB block (which originated on The WB, before moving to The CW) featured references to products such as Eggo waffles, Fruit by the Foot, and the Nintendo e-Reader accessory for the Game Boy handheld system mentioning their products having a tie-in to the Pokémon franchise on-air. The FCC has fined individual affiliates of The WB for the violation of the guidelines and upheld the fines on appeal, even though it was the network which transmitted the content.
Meanwhile, promotion for related websites are allowed only under certain circumstances and must specify that the linked site is meant as an advertisement, and must be in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), regarding personal information acquisition for advertisers online for children under 13 years of age.
In 2005, the E/I rule was altered again to expand the guidelines to digital broadcast television services. Under the new rule, all full-service stations that operate digital signals must carry the minimum weekly three hours of E/I programming on all of their digital channels, regardless of the type of content they carry (such as news, weather or niche entertainment programming).
In 2007, the digital subchannels' involvement in the E/I rule was changed again, depending on the number of free services offered by the station – the station now must carry more than three hours of E/I programming, but how much more is determined by how many hours of "free programming" the station offers on their digital signal. For every 28-hour period of free programming offered on the subchannels, the station must add an extra half-hour of E/I programming, in addition to the three hours required on the main signal.
When the FCC announced the new requirements, local stations tried to repackage existing children's shows as educational and informational; as examples, Hearst Broadcasting distributed Cappelli & Company, a children's program that originated on its Pittsburgh station WTAE-TV across that group's stations, while Sinclair Broadcast Group aired (Girl) Scouting Today from WPGH-TV (also based in Pittsburgh) on many of its stations across the country to meet E/I requirements. The FCC, however, turned down many of these requests.
On the other hand, producers of true educational shows suddenly found a new market for their productions, and reruns of shows such as New Zoo Revue and Big Blue Marble suddenly became available on small-scale independent stations, which normally air religious shows, infomercials and home shopping programs. However, enforcement remains somewhat capricious: KDOC-TV, an independent station in Irvine, California and Fox affiliate WLUK-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin have both been allowed to count reruns of the 1970s drama series Little House on the Prairie as an E/I show, due to its historical depiction of frontier life in the 19th century and its connection to the popular elementary-school book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though the show was not originally intended for that purpose (WLUK stopped airing Little House in September 2013 due to shifts in its weekday schedule). Pax TV's talent showcases (America's Most Talented Kids) and animal rescue documentaries (Miracle Pets) were also counted toward the "E/I" requirement, with the network giving them an unofficial and non-binding "rating" of "TV E/I". More recently, in the late 2000s, the teen-oriented Canadian drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation and Edgemont were sold into U.S. syndication (with stations often omitting certain episodes) to be used to count towards E/I quotas, because of their depiction of teen social issues such as bullying and sexual identity.
PBS, due to its structure as an educational programming service, has long complied with the guidelines from the implementation of the Children's Television Act; most of the programs broadcast by the service or syndicated to public television stations (such as Sesame Street, Arthur, Thomas and Friends, Curious George, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and Wild Kratts) differ from E/I-compliant content distributed in recent years by commercial broadcasters and syndicators, as they are tailored to meet the needs of children by balancing educational and entertainment content. As with PBS' PBS Kids block, Ion Television's Qubo (both the standalone digital multicast channel and program block), and the Trinity Broadcasting Network's digital multicast network Smile of a Child likewise feature educational programming throughout their schedules; the latter two networks as well as the PBS children's block display E/I bugs across most of their programming, including program promotions and (in the case of PBS) pledge appeals. Because of the large amount of E/I programming seen on PBS stations, which well exceeds the guidelines in most cases, public television subchannel networks such as Create and World do not carry their own blocks of E/I programming within their main network feeds (this is a similar case with Qubo and parent network Ion Television's other subchannel services, Ion Life and Ion Shop, as well as QVC and the Home Shopping Network, which both lease subchannel space on Ion's stations and are not beholden to the E/I guidelines to begin with as those two networks are cable-originated channels). Many PBS member stations also carry independently programmed digital multicast services that feature children's programs broadcast by the service or syndicated to individual public television stations.
Many of the Discovery Kids channel's programs also included an E/I bug, and likewise its successors, the Hub Network and Discovery Family, use E/I bugs, including in program guide metadata – even though the channel is available strictly on cable and satellite – possibly to have the programs stand out within children's genre selections in search applications of electronic program guide listings as having E/I content; however, some programs (such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Littlest Pet Shop and Pound Puppies) have discontinued use of the E/I mark in subsequent seasons to accommodate references and plots which appeal both to children and (in the case of My Little Pony, unusually sizeable) adult audiences. Cable networks are exempt from federal regulations regarding E/I programming, and contributions by these networks that are educational in content have been limited in recent years to the decline of the Cable in the Classroom initiative or their decision to sell archive programming through online educational portals.
In the case of the Big Three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and their affiliates, these broadcasters eventually replaced their traditional Saturday morning cartoon lineup with E/I-compliant programming, usually by forming a partnership with another company. For example, Discovery Kids originally presented a Saturday morning, E/I-friendly block on NBC from September 2002 to September 2006. In 2006, a consortium that included NBC parent company NBC Universal, Ion Television parent Ion Media Networks and three other companies (Scholastic Press, Classic Media and Nelvana) formed the multi-platform Qubo that encompassed separate children's program blocks on NBC and Telemundo, and a separate digital subchannel network usually found on the second digital channel of most Ion stations; NBC and Telemundo discontinued their respective Qubo blocks by a time-leased block provided by PBS Kids Sprout called NBC Kids (along with an accompanying Spanish language block on Telemundo called MiTelemundo) in July 2011. In September 2011, ABC replaced its ABC Kids lineup (which by then only featured a limited pool of older episodes of Disney Channel Original Series which had remained unupdated for years) with the Litton Entertainment-produced Weekend Adventure, which broadcasts under a unique syndication agreement with ABC. CBS replaced its Nickelodeon-produced block Nick Jr. on CBS/Nick on CBS in 2006 with one from DiC Entertainment (which subsequently was merged into Cookie Jar Group), originally known as the "KOL Secret Slumber Party" and later as Cookie Jar TV; that block was replaced by one produced by Litton, the CBS Dream Team, in September 2013.
Both of 21st Century Fox's networks, Fox and MyNetworkTV, leave virtually all of the E/I burden to the affiliates themselves, requiring stations affiliated with those networks to purchase E/I-complaint programs (such as Animal Atlas, Eco Company and Wild About Animals) off the open syndication market from production companies such as Steve Rotfeld Productions (which also produces a two-hour block called Xploration Station that is carried by Fox's owned-and-operated stations and many of its affiliates), Entertainment Studios, Connection III Entertainment, Associated Television International, Telco Productions or Litton Entertainment. During the run of the Fox Kids and (later) time-leased 4Kids TV blocks, Fox set aside only half-hour or an hour of programming time in those blocks for E/I content. The CW had previously only maintained one hour of E/I content in its The CW4Kids/Toonzai and Vortexx blocks; although the predecessor of both of those blocks, Kids' WB, carried the full minimum required by federal mandate. The CW (which eventually became the last English language commercial television network to feature a traditional children's program block) would, however, begin complying with the E/I regulations fully in September 2014, when it launched a third E/I-compliant block from Litton, One Magnificent Morning (even through that block's launch, The CW Plus, a feed for smaller markets that is programmed by The CW, continues carry a lineup of syndicated E/I-compliant programs separate from One Magnificent Morning, effectively resulting in The CW Plus' broadcast affiliates exceeding the minimum three-hour requirement). Spanish language network Univision provides an all-E/I schedule within its Planeta U block, which features programs licensed from Nick Jr. and Disney Junior with the program's Spanish dub track meant for Nickelodeon and Disney Channel's Latin American networks.
Exemptions from the rule are rarely allowed by the FCC beyond situations in which any of its stations must provide extended breaking news or severe weather coverage, forcing stations to cover that rather than meet the guidelines. NBC adjusted its Olympic Games and Ryder Cup coverage so that the network's Qubo block could air in some form during the week for their stations to receive their E/I credit; ABC, meanwhile, chose to air the ABC Kids lineup on Saturday afternoon during its coverage of The British Open/Open Championship – which the network aired in the early morning – in early July through 2009 (prior to ESPN taking over coverage of the golf tournament in 2010), or, in the Pacific Time Zone, on Sunday mornings due to early college football coverage on Saturday mornings (because it is structured as a syndication block, ABC stations now opt to reschedule the successor Litton's Weekend Adventure block on any available weekend time slot where sports programming is not scheduled). Likewise, the NBC Kids lineup began to be split between Saturday and Sunday beginning in August 2013 in markets located in the eastern half of the United States due to NBC's coverage of the English Premier League's late Saturday games (which air in the early afternoon in the United States), although some choose to pre-empt the last half-hour of the Saturday edition of Today to air NBC Kids programs bumped from their normal time slots due to sports coverage to meet the guidelines; some NBC affiliates had chosen to split the network's children's block between Saturday and Sunday long beforehand due to sports-enforced pre-emptions, dating back to the existence of the TNBC block prior to 2002. According to FCC records, TBN has received exemptions for their stations in the past due to their Praise-a-Thon telethon events.
Digital subchannel networks may also provide the required E/I programming for their stations; however, the requirements for digital subchannels are currently structured in a manner that subchannel services must carry E/I-compliant content even if children's programs do not at all fit its programming format, especially if it operates as a news/information service or maintains a niche (rather than general) entertainment format focusing on specific types of programming (such as feature films) or a certain target audience.
Networks such as the Retro Television Network, Live Well Network, Antenna TV, Me-TV and This TV, for example, provide E/I programming through distribution agreements with either a single or various producers of educational programs intended for syndication to individual television stations (in the latter two cases, programming originally produced for the Chicago flagship station (such as Green Screen Adventures) of the networks' owner Weigel Broadcasting, since limited to Me-TV as a result of Weigel transferring its partial ownership interest in This TV to Tribune Broadcasting in November 2013). Effectively this is almost a requirement for subchannel carriage by most stations, which would rather have the E/I programming within the network schedule rather than having to purchase and air the compliant programming on their own. However, in the case of test subchannels carrying only SMPTE color bars or a still screen featuring station identification text, the E/I requirements do not apply in these situations.
The now-defunct NBC Weather Plus aired Weather Plus University, an educational program about weather and meteorology, whilst continuing to show current weather conditions inside its trademark "L-bar" on the left and bottom sides of the screen. Independent local weather subchannels, such as the Stormcenter 2 24/7 channel on WBAY-DT2 in Green Bay, Wisconsin balanced out the requirements of the new rules by airing educational programming while airing the station's regularly scheduled newscast on WBAY's main channel in order to keep viewers informed about the weather and meet the E/I needs of their license (in that case, at 5:00 p.m. weekdays and Saturday mornings at 8:00 a.m.); in September 2012; those three hours were moved to WBAY's DT3 channel affiliated with the Live Well Network, which carries six hours of E/I content per week to allow the second subchannel to carry 24-hour weather coverage. Some other stations however pulled digital subchannels entirely due to the regulations, such as WPRI/WNAC in Providence, Rhode Island converting their digital weather channel into a cable-only service to get around the regulations.
Currently, affiliates of The Local AccuWeather Channel must provide their own E/I programming, thus disallowing them from carrying the data feed for that channel in most cases during the time period(s) it airs compliant educational content. WeatherNation TV, in contrast, provides a three-hour block of syndicated E/I programs during the late morning and early afternoon hours on Sundays; in this instance, WeatherNation limits disruption of its forecast wheel schedule (which is pre-recorded in four hour intervals, preventing issues with balancing E/I content during severe weather events, as it does not provide real-time coverage) by airing five-minute national weather segments before the start of each E/I program.
The Tube Music Network, which carried the program Wildlife Jams to meet the E/I guidelines, ceased operations on October 1, 2007. A factor in the network's demise may have been a decision by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to reduce their E/I liability; stations in the group have in the past been cited in media studies as carrying the absolute minimum of E/I programming possible. Sinclair began carrying the network on its stations when The Tube launched in March 2006, and then pulled the network from all of its stations at the end of that year because of various new FCC requirements for digital subchannels, not only for E/I content, but also for the Emergency Alert System, along with the digital transition making coordination of E/I programming difficult at the time. Sinclair resumed airing non-netlet subchannels in September 2010 with the launch of carriage of both TheCoolTV (which was abruptly dropped by the group in August 2012) and ZUUS Country (whose carriage on Sinclair stations began to be phased out in 2014, in favor of either GetTV or Grit), which provide the requisite Saturday morning E/I programming within their schedules; most station groups now maintain centralized master control centers, making airing a set of E/I programs easier across a large geographical area.
All programming that is to count toward the educational programming requirements must air between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. local time (this has the unintended consequence of making the cartoons and live-action children's series that aired during the 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. hour on weekdays – before children left for school – no longer viable for reaching a general audience as by 7:00 a.m. in many places, children have already boarded school buses). The law allows networks and stations to air E/I programming in the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. time slot on weekdays despite the fact that most children five years of age and older are at school during that time period. Taking advantage of this loophole, some commercial stations interested only in malicious compliance with the regulations show E/I programming only during this time slot (often going further and tent-poling their E/I shows with infomercials before and after so that these programs are almost certain to be overlooked).
The Big Three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) set aside what was traditionally the last half of the Saturday-morning cartoon block for E/I content, with the first half being devoted to morning shows, both national and local (the latter depending on the station). The tighter requirements have partly led to a shift in the type of children's programming seen on broadcast television and in syndication; although the FCC does not place requirements in regards to whether the program is animated or live-action or if it should have any entertainment value, an increasing amount of E/I programs seen in syndication and on network television are live-action, unscripted programs (compared to the animation-dominant formats of children's programming that existed up until the late 1990s), whose educational content value often comes in the form of wildlife, health, job study or travel-related content, with arguably limited entertainment content. ABC, CBS and The CW all outsource their E/I liabilities to Litton Entertainment; Fox similarly commissions E/I content for its owned-and-operated stations and some affiliates from Steve Rotfeld Productions (this is less the case with NBC, which targets preschool audiences with its in-house E/I block, albeit produced in conjunction with sister cable channel Sprout). Many of the traditional types of children's programs, which still must meet educational programming guidelines in some form, have shifted to non-commercial broadcasters (such as PBS, TBN and Daystar) and networks that broadcast programming in languages other than English (such as Univision, Telemundo and MundoFox).
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