The Children's Television Act (Pub.L. 101-437) is an Act of Congress that was designed to increase the amount of educational children's programming on television. The Act requires full-service television stations that offer children's television programming to serve the educational and informational needs of children through their overall programming, including programs that are specifically designed to serve these needs (or "core" educational programming). In August 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to strengthen the enforcement of this statutory mandate. These rules were:
- Adopt several public information initiatives designed to give parents greater information about the core educational programs being aired by television stations (these initiatives are explained in greater detail below).
- Set forth a clear definition of what type of programs qualify as core programs: they generally must have serving the educational and informational needs of children as a significant purpose; be aired between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.; be a regularly scheduled weekly program; and be at least 30 minutes in length.
- Establish a guideline that calls for every full-service television station to air at least three hours per week of core educational programming.
A central goal of the FCC's rules were to provide parents and other members of the public with greater information about educational television programs, in order to help parents guide their children's television viewing and also encourage an ongoing dialogue between the public and television stations about the station's performance under the Children's Television Act. To help accomplish this, the 1996 rules required commercial television stations to identify core educational programs at the beginning of the program (such as with a verbal announcement or an icon), and to provide information identifying these programs to publishers of television program listings (either print or electronic).
The rules also require commercial full-service television stations to complete Children's Television Programming Report (Form 398) every quarter regarding their educational programming, and to make these reports available to the public via their studio facilities, public libraries, and/or the station's website.
History of children's television regulation
Concern over the impact that television had on children began when television was still a new entertainment medium. During the 1950s, many individuals, particularly parents, asked their legislators to do something about the potential effects of television viewing on young people (such as their susceptibility to claims made in advertisements). There has been academic research that has been initiated since this time to monitor, analyze and explain the relationships between television and children, although the impact of television on academic performance continues to be debated in scholarly research.
The first attempt to address these concerns were during Congressional hearings in 1952 that addressed violence. Besides Congress, there were government commissions that also pursued this agenda. Included in these discussions were the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and advocacy groups formed by concerned citizens. The FCC intended to change a number of policies regarding children's programming, but no serious action took place until the enactment of the Children's Television Act in 1990.
The Children's Television Act was drafted to enhance television for young viewers. Some research reveals certain downsides to the act; for example, after the Act was passed, although there was more programming geared towards children, stations actually provided less diverse educational shows than they had before. To prevent this problem, the FCC required television stations to keep logs that described in detail why the shows were educational and/or informational. However, many stations failed to keep these records or have any method for accurate recording. More than 25% of television stations in the U.S. failed to record the time, date, or length of programming considered to be educational in content. The FCC did little to regulate these logs up until 1993, but later on, came up with certain rules and regulations such as the safe harbor provision in order to regulate content for younger audiences.
In addition, Congress provided little direction towards the implementation of the Act, only dictating that programming had to be specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children. According to a 1998 report by the Annenberg Foundation, the number of network television shows deemed to be "highly educational" dropped from 43% prior to the enactment of the Act to 29% in the eight years since it went into effect. A research report from Georgetown University said that one issue contributing to this was that what constituted educational television programming was defined too broadly, as programming that was only academic or that covered pro-social issues, for example, counted towards station requirements. Another issue was that traditional ideas of what should be taught to children, such as the alphabet or number systems were lost. There was also a reported increase in the amount of programs focusing on social issues. Writers for these programs wrote stories that often were not academically sound for young viewers, because they were not trained in writing for this audience. One show that was an exception to this rule is The Magic School Bus, as it combined effective writing and educational content for children.
Another result revealed in the report was that as a result of the Act, many local broadcast stations dropped their locally produced educational shows and purchased blocks of pre-produced children's programs from the major networks. This was largely due to the fact that the rules in the Act stated that stations only had to meet the minimum requirement to provide three hours of educational programming content on a weekly basis. Many of the stations thought in terms of profits and eliminated their own shows, which had more educational content than the programs they acquired via syndication, to reduce monetary costs that would be incurred in producing their own educational programs and still meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the renewal of their broadcast licenses.
Programming for profit
A report by Scott Conley published in the Syracuse Law Review showed that the average child will have watched between 10,000 and 15,000 hours of television programming, and over 200,000 commercials by the time they are 18. His research showed that commercials typically were for the interest of advertisers and had no concern for the needs of children.
According to the Act, commercials had to be geared towards children 12 years of age or younger. The amount of commercial advertising allowed to air per each hour of children's programming was restricted to no more than 10½ minutes on weekends, and 12 minutes on Monday through Fridays. Cable systems were required to keep records of their following of the advertising rules so that regulators such as the FCC, and the public were allowed to monitor their behavior. The main reason for this restriction was due to research which demonstrated that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the program they are watching and commercials, with most having little or no understanding of commercials' persuasive intent, and as such, children are highly vulnerable to claims and appeals by advertisers. Commercials for food products make up a large percentage of advertisements geared towards children. Marketers are interested in youth as consumers because of their spending power through their parents, their influence, and their retention as adult consumers in the future. Many techniques and channels are used to reach children, starting when they are toddlers, in order to establish brand building and purchasing behavior. One study found that food advertisements accounted for 47.8% of all television commercials. These advertisements advertised food products that were high in fat and sugar content. Compared with data collected before new regulations took place, children now watch more shorter-length commercials.
Other actions that networks took in order to increase their profit via advertising while implementing the Act included selecting programs based on their marketing value. Producers selected series more often when they were related to a hit movie or pop culture icon, such as if the show featured a character that could be sold as a marketable action figure. A researcher for the Nickelodeon series Dora the Explorer discussed how preschoolers interact with new episodes of the show. Among other methods, researchers try to determine whether children are paying attention or interacting with the program, and also try to figure out what draws kids' attention to the show, and what elements can be adjusted to increase potential viewership. Elements such as adding more close-ups of the main characters, called "money shots", are intended to embed the face into children's minds; in turn, this can increase product sales. This information is considered highly valuable to researchers, since shows such as Dora sell millions of dollars worth of merchandise annually. According to Judi Cook, an assistant professor at Salem University, there were issues with the amount of commercials for these marketable products targeted at children that were aired in the Boston television market. Cook watched programs on one of the stations for a particular calendar day, and learned that 80 out of 97 advertisementsrelevance? appeared before or after children's programs.
By the 2010s, most major networks had phased out traditional children's programming from their schedules in favor of live-action educational series, which broadcasters have legally declared to be aimed towards viewers between the ages of 13 and 16, rather than 12 and under. The Children's Television Act dictates that programs aimed towards viewers 12 and under are limited in the amount of advertising they may carry per-hour, and may not broadcast commercials for products related to a program or featuring hosts or characters from the program ("host-selling"); however, a footnote states that this does not apply if the program is aimed towards viewers older than 12 years old. Deadline.com noted that the live-action educational programs produced by Litton Entertainment frequently contained brand integration with underwriting sponsors, such as Norwegian Cruise Line (Dream Quest is set on the company's ships), Electronic Arts (Game Changers is promoted as being presented and sponsored by EA Sports, and contains a segment focusing on the development of an EA Sports video game), and SeaWorld Entertainment.
Claudia Moquin, daughter of the CTA's main supporter Peggy Charren, criticized these practices for contravening the original intent of the CTA, by exposing children to a level of advertising and sponsored content that the CTA was meant to prevent. Litton defended these practices, stating that they were "a far better alternative" to ads for junk food and toys, and argued that the company has "led the industry in aspirational storytelling that meets child psychologist-developed standards that did not exist prior to 1990".
Recent changes to the act
In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission passed rules related to website references during children's programs. Under the guidelines, there were a number of criteria that the website must meet: these include requirements that it offer non-commercial related content; the page has to clearly divide commercial and non-commercial content into sections; that the website being directed to viewers can not be used for e-commerce, advertising or other commercial advertising; and the prohibition of displaying the website address if it advertised characters from a program that was airing alongside it.
The Academy of Political and Social Science found in a report covering the state of children's television content between 1996 and 1997 that only 38.8% of programs targeted at that demographic could be considered "high-quality"; 23.2% were found to be "moderate" quality, and 37% of programs were found to be of low quality. The research on programming quality took into account both educational content of shows and also the reactions of the children and their parents.
At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing in July 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke about the new landscape of digital video media and television. He recommended empowering parents with tools and information to determine the appropriate video content for their children rather than government regulation of video content.
At the same hearing, James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media (a non-partisan, not-for profit organization that advocates for educational children's media content), said that there were ways to regulate children's media content without limiting broadcasters rights to free speech.
U.S. television networks with E/I-compliant children's programs
In American television, a digital on-screen graphic or "bug" denoting the program as "E/I" is placed in a corner of the screen indicating a children's television program that meets federal guidelines defining it as having educational and informational content for younger audiences.
Current children's programming blocks
- CBS Dream Team (CBS) – Debuted in September 2013 and produced by Litton Entertainment under a time-lease agreement, the CBS Dream Team provides three hours of unscripted live-action children's programming on Saturday mornings that meet E/I guidelines.
- Litton's Weekend Adventure (syndicated exclusively to ABC affiliates) – Produced by Litton Entertainment and launched in September 2011, the block provides three hours of unscripted live-action programming aimed at family audiences that meet E/I regulations.
- NBC Kids and MiTelemundo (NBC/Telemundo) – Produced by Sprout and launched in July 2012, the two blocks air weekend mornings (the English language NBC Kids airs Saturdays on NBC, while the Spanish language MiTelemundo airs Saturdays and Sundays on Telemundo). Sprout operates as a 24-hour standalone channel available to cable and satellite providers. In February 24, 2016, NBC announced that NBC Kids will be discontinued with its final airing date on September 24, 2016 as NBC Plans to replace NBC Kids with Litton Entertainment's The More You Know E/I Block, which is an expansion of NBC's public service announcements of the same name. The new block will air on October 1, 2016 on NBC, though Telemundo will continue to air its MiTelemundo block with Spanish-dubbed children's programs from Sprout.
- One Magnificent Morning (The CW) – Debuted in September 2014 and produced by Litton Entertainment under a time-lease agreement, the block provides five hours of unscripted live-action programming aimed at family audiences that meet E/I regulations. The network's broadcast and cable feed for smaller markets, The CW Plus, also offers a separate lineup of E/I-compliant programs acquired off the syndication market that air immediately after One Magnificent Morning.
- PBS Kids (PBS) – PBS broadcasts live-action and animated (mostly scripted) children's programming for up to twelve hours every weekday, most of its member stations also air such programs on weekend mornings. Some PBS member stations operate a 24-hour digital subchannel service carrying children's programs broadcast by PBS or syndicated to individual public television stations.
- Qubo (Ion Television) – Qubo is a three-hour children's program block airing on Sunday mornings on Ion Television (which was rebranded as the Qubo Kids' Corner in January 2015); until July 2012, additional blocks under the brand aired Saturday mornings on NBC and Saturday and Sunday mornings on Telemundo (the latter featuring Spanish dubbed versions of the shows seen on the Ion and NBC blocks). Qubo Channel is a separate 24-hour multicast network that airs on Ion Television's owned-and-operated stations and certain affiliates, featuring some programs featured on the Ion block as well as other (primarily imported) programs carried solely by the channel. Qubo Channel is not currently available on all cable providers, although Ion Media Networks has sought must-carry status for the channel.
- Xploration Station (syndicated mainly to Fox affiliates) – Produced by Steve Rotfeld Productions, the block provides two hours of unscripted live-action children's programming, usually airing on Saturday mornings, that meet E/I guidelines.
Former children's programming blocks
- 4Kids TV (formerly FoxBox) (Fox) - Aired Saturday mornings from 2002 to 2008. The block was syndicated to other television stations in markets where the Fox affiliates (or in some cases, owned and operated stations) did not air the block. The block was replaced by the syndicated paid programming block Weekend Marketplace in December 2008 (only shows within the first hour of the block featured shows that met E/I criteria).
- ABC Kids (formerly Disney's One Saturday Morning) (ABC) – Aired Saturday mornings from 1997 to 2011; in its last years, the block aired programming from basic cable network Disney Channel. Some series within the block were pre-empted by select ABC affiliates (including those owned by Hearst Television, Cox Broadcasting and Allbritton Communications Company) due to a lack of E/I content.
- CBS Kidshow (CBS) – Aired from 1997 to 1998; the block featured children's programming on Saturday mornings from Canadian production company Nelvana.
- Cookie Jar Toons (This TV) – Aired daily from 2008 to 2013; the block featured children's programming from Cookie Jar Group (E/I programs aired under the "Cookie Jar Toons" banner, while non-E/I shows aired under the sub-block This is for Kids). It was replaced by a three-hour block of syndicated E/I shows on Sunday mornings after Tribune Broadcasting assumed part-ownership of This TV from Weigel Broadcasting in November 2013.
- Cookie Jar TV (formerly KOL Secret Slumber Party and KEWLopolis) (CBS) – Aired Saturday mornings from 2006 to 2013; the block provided three hours of entertainment-based live action and animated children's programming from Cookie Jar Group that met E/I guidelines; was replaced by the CBS Dream Team in September 2013.
- Cookie Jar Kids Network (formerly DiC Kids Network) (Syndicated) – Aired from 2002 to 2011; marketed as a syndication package of entertainment-based live action and animated children's programming from DiC/Cookie Jar Group.
- Discovery Kids on NBC (NBC) – Aired on Saturday mornings from 2002 to 2006; the block provided three hours of both edutainment and strictly entertainment-based live action andanimated children's programming from digital cable and satellite channel Discovery Kids that met E/I guidelines.
- Disney's One Too (UPN) – Aired on weekday and Sunday mornings from 1999 to 2003; the block aired animated programs sourced primarily from Walt Disney Television Animation (which originated on ABC's Disney's One Saturday Morning) and later included shows acquired by Disney through its purchase of Fox Family Worldwide (only certain programs within the blocks met E/I criteria).
- Fox Kids (Fox) – Aired from 1990 to 2002; originated as a block of children's programming that aired on weekday and Saturday mornings. The block provided entertainment-based animated series and a limited amount of live-action series (only a limited number of shows, particularly those airing as part of the Fox Kids Cubhouse sub-block aimed at preschoolers from 1994 to 1997 as well as reruns of The Magic School Bus met E/I guidelines); was replaced by FoxBox in September 2002.
- Kids' WB (The WB/The CW) – Aired from 1995 to 2006 on The WB and from 2006 to 2008 on The CW; originated as a block of children's programming that aired on weekday and Saturday mornings; the weekday block was dropped in December 2005, and the remaining Saturday morning block moved to The CW when it debuted in September 2006 (only certain programs within the weekday and Saturday blocks met E/I criteria); was replaced by The CW4Kids in 2008.
- Nickelodeon en Telemundo (Telemundo) – Aired from 1998 to 2000; the Saturday morning block provided Spanish-dubbed versions of children's programming from Nickelodeon.
- Nick Jr. on CBS (also known as Nick on CBS) (CBS) – Aired from 1998 to 2006; the Saturday morning block featured children's programming from the basic cable network Nickelodeon; some programs, particularly those sourced from the channel's Nick Jr. block, met E/I criteria.
- PAX Kids (Pax TV) – Aired from 1998 to 2000; this block featured religious and secular children's programs and aired on Saturday and Sunday mornings, most of which met E/I criteria.
- TNBC (NBC) – Aired on Saturday mornings from 1992 to 2002; the block provided three hours of entertainment-based live action sitcoms and some drama series (primarily produced by Peter Engel Productions and NBC Productions/NBC Enterprises) that met E/I guidelines through the incorporation of social issues relevant to the block's target demographic of adolescents; was replaced by Discovery Kids on NBC in September 2002.
- Toonzai (formerly The CW4Kids) (The CW) – Aired from 2008 to 2012 and produced by 4Kids Entertainment under a time-lease agreement; this block featured children's programming for five hours on Saturday mornings (only the first hour of the block featured shows that met E/I criteria).
- UPN Kids (UPN) – Aired on weekday and Sunday mornings from 1995 to 1999; this block provided animated children's programming on weekday and Sunday mornings (only select programs met E/I criteria).
- Vortexx (The CW) – Aired from August 25, 2012 to September 27, 2014 and produced by Saban Brands under a time-lease agreement, Vortexx provided five hours of children's programming on Saturday mornings (with the exception of the first hour of the block, most shows do not meet E/I criteria).
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