Three and a half years after the Federal Communications Commission’s revised rules requiring U.S. broadcasters to air three hours a week of educational children’s programming came into full effect, the regulations appear to have achieved their desired outcome.
This past January, the FCC released the findings of a three-year review of broadcaster implementation, examining reports from a sample of more than 10% of all U.S. commercial television stations. The review found that ‘the average amount of children’s core programming [defined as fare specifically designed to serve kids' educational and informational needs] aired on a commercial broadcast television station since the core requirement has been in effect is approximately four hours per week.’ And ‘broadcast licensees have also complied with the other aspects of the children’s television rules. These include airing programming during hours when children will be in the audience, airing programs of a substantial length, and providing better information to the public regarding their educational children’s television programming.’
While the rules apply to individual stations, networks have stepped up to the plate to help their affiliates meet the mandate.
For Fox Kids Network, ‘[the regulations haven't] had that dramatic of an impact,’ says Joel Andryc, executive VP of kids programming and development for Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids Network, because FCC-friendly programming has long added ‘color to the palette of our schedule.’ The network provides three hours of Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus, airing a half hour within Fox Kids’ 14-hour slate and giving affiliates ‘the flexibility to schedule the remaining half hours whenever they see fit,’ says Andryc. About the decision not to air all three hours within Fox Kids programming, Andryc says: ‘We have to make sure that not only do we serve the community and the FCC, but that the ratings are there, the revenues are there and the advertisers [are there].’ Andryc is looking at new programs for a 2002 launch.
At Kids’ WB!, ‘Warner Bros. really made a big commitment’ when the regulations came out, creating Histeria! at Warner Bros. Television Animation, says Kids’ WB! executive VP Donna Friedman. The informational program, running four weekday mornings, along with prosocial-oriented Detention (Warner Bros. Television Animation) and Generation O! (Sony Wonder, RTV and Wang Film Production) air as ‘an integral part’ of Kids’ WB!’s 19-hour lineup, she says.
Kids’ WB! and Nelvana are readying Rescue Heroes for the fall schedule, likely premiering this summer. The animated revamp of the series that previously aired on CBS stars a multiethnic group of ‘the ultimate rescue heroes’ saving the day in situations such as tornadoes and avalanches, says Friedman; it offers safety information about themes such as hiking and earthquakes, as well as prosocial messages like the importance of teamwork.
Broadcasters and producers are waiting to see what direction new FCC chairman Michael Powell and his commissioners will take regarding the regulations. While Powell seems to favor ‘a slightly less regulatory approach,’ says Friedman, ‘because kids are such an important and vulnerable audience, I think [the regulations will] probably stay about the same.’