Fighting over the children

Kids' advocates, programmers at odds over digital TV rules

Kids TV advocates and children's programmers are split over proposed new obligations that the FCC is considering for TV stations and cable systems.

At issue are several proposals the FCC is considering aimed at increasing the amount of kids TV available as broadcasters begin multicasting and as TV networks begin offering interactive links, including ones that may be aimed at marketing products to children.

Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street
and is eyeing the digital transition as a source of new programming outlets and new marketing revenue, not surprisingly supports the increase in kids-TV obligations, but opposes the Center for Media Education's proposed restrictions on interactive marketing.

Instead, Sesame workshop wants "mixed" use Internet sites okayed as long as they are not "primarily intended" for e-commerce, do not provide a direct hot link from the TV screen to the e-commerce section and offer a substantial amount of "bona fide" program-related content. "Links to mixed-use Web sites that sell products associated with the program in which the links appear should be encouraged rather than prohibited," the workshop said.

CME is backing FCC suggestions that would cap the number of times children's shows can be pre-empted for sports and news events and still count toward the 3-hour weekly quota of kids' analog programming. For digital programming, pre-emptions eventually should be eliminated, the group maintained.

CME also wants the FCC to increase the amount of kids programming required when stations and cable networks multicast. Broadcasters could meet the added obligations by increasing the actual number of children's shows, funding local public-TV kids shows or providing datacasting services to local schools. Networks also should add V-Chip codes to commercials to limit kids' exposure to "age-inappropriate promotions," CME noted.

Industry officials, by contrast, urged regulators not to increase their children's TV obligations. In addition to opposing the suggestions above, they also are fighting a proposal that would count program promotions against advertising limits during children's programming. The 1990 Children's Television Act "implicitly understood that some measure of commercial advertising was a fundamental underpinning of much of the children's television provided over cable and broadcast television," wrote the National Cable Television Association. Some broadcasters said stations would be dissuaded from adding news or public affairs channels if their kids-programming quotas were to rise.

The National Association of Broadcasters is opposing a proposal, which would be applied to DTV in general, that would require stations to post their entire public file on the Internet, including children's programming reports and letters from the public received over the last three years.