Allowing ownership of more than one TV station in a market does not "preserve and enhance" broadcasters' ability to serve the needs of children, as the industry contends.
That is according to Children Now, the kids’ TV activist group, which released a study Thursday, the same day the Federal Communications Commission is holding a public media-ownership hearing in Chicago into that and other policies.
According to the report, "Big Media, Little Kids 2: Examining the Influence of Duopolies on Children's Television Programming," so-called duopolies provided no more children's programming (both educational and noneducational) -- and in many cases less -- than their nondupopoly counterparts. The study also indicated a "dramatic decrease" in kids’ programming between 1998, before duopolies were allowed, and 2006.
The FCC, as part of its years-long review of ownership rules mandated by a court and Congress, has asked for input on whether it should allow more such duopoly combinations, which are currently disallowed in smaller markets, where broadcasters argue that the need for the financial stability of such combinations can be greater than in larger markets.
Children Now said the study was to test the argument for duopolies as applied to the needs of children, and it did not pass the test.
The survey, of all of the commercial TV stations in eight markets (Atlanta; Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; El Paso, Texas; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Portland-Auburn, Maine; and Spokane, Wash.) in 1998 and 2006, found that duopoly stations had decreased both the number of hours and the number of educational children's series at "significantly greater rates" than nonduopoly stations. For example, educational children's programming was down an average 32% on duopoly stations vs. 18% on nonduopolies.
“Studies have shown that broadcast television duopolies have resulted in better public service and an increase in local news coverage after a struggling station is combined with a more fiscally secure entity," said Dennis Wharton, executive VP of media relations for the National Association of Broadcasters. "The fact is that TV stations teetering on bankruptcy do not have the financial resources necessary to provide the public service that is the hallmark of most local broadcasters.”