The FCC Tuesday voted unanimously to approve compromise kids TV programming rules that set three-hour minimums of educational kids programmer per free multicast digital channel and sets new limits on commercials and links to Internet sites.
Calling the process as important as the result, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said it was "critical" to recognize both media companies and advocates for producing a "template" for compromise, echoing the praise of the other commissioners.
On hand for the vote were representatives from advertising, broadcasting, cable, children's activists, and even some children.
The FCC had passed new rules for kids shows in the digital age back in 2004, but both kids activists and media companies had challenged those rules in court, the first because they felt them too lax, the latter because they thought them too tough.
The commission stayed the Jan. 1, 2006, effective date for implementing the bulk of those rules while it considered, and sought public comment on, a compromise hammered out by the media and activists last fall as a way to avoid protracted litigation.
Thanking the industry and activists, Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said "There is no doubt that this item will advance the quality and quantity of children's programming," but he took the opportunity to say that it was time to establish public interest obligations for digital programming for adults as well.
The compromise leaves in place the requirement that broadcasters air three hours of children's TV per channel in both analog and digital, a key for kids activists.
In addition, the media companies agreed not to challenge limits on the display of commercial Web sites during children's programming. The groups agreed to a modified form of host selling in which the use of TV characters to sell products to kids would be confined to specific areas of a Web site if that Web address was displayed in shows that featured those characters.
The key is that there will have to be a buffer between the character and a sales pitch.
Arguably the biggest deal was on program promotion in kids shows. The FCC rules as previously written counted any program promotion in a kids show as an advertisement, reducing the amount of paid ads that can air during the show. Under the agreement, show promos for kids shows on the same channel or educational kids shows on any channel would not count as ad time.
In addition, there are no numerical limits, as the current rules contain, on the ability of broadcasters to preempt kids shows for live sports and other programming, with those decisions handled on a case-by-case basis.
Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he had some lingering concerns about the modification of the host-selling prohibition for some third-party sites, and about the modification of the commercial definition to exclude plugs for commercial kids shows on the same channel.
But he said that did not alter his basic support for the item or alloy his praise for the parties who came up with the compromise, saying he felt sometimes as though he were in a sea of media trying to keep his head above water while "the sharks of commercialism" swam below. Like Copps, he called for resolving the digital public service obligations for adults as well as kids.
That sentiment was seconded by former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. Currently with the Benton Foundation, she was a key player in the comprommise in her former post atop the United Church of Christ's office of communication.
“This process should be a model for the FCC, the media industry and advocates to come together to define what “in the public interest” means for adults in the digital age as well," Tristani said following the vote.
Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, father of young children, said he was well aware of the plethora of ads that bombarded kids, and praised the "unlikely coalition of entities" for forging the kind of private-sector solution he supports "wherever possible."
While also praising the process and the result, Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said she would continue to push cable, satellite and telco multichannel video providers to carry more family-friendly children's programming.
The new rules become effective 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, which should mean they should take effect before before the end of the year.