A lot of people are talking these days about the regulations that govern children’s programming (“Kid Vid” rules) on broadcast television, and the opinions run the gamut. Keep the current rules, evaluate them, relax them, deregulate them – make them more stringent even. Of the myriad of opinions that exist, everyone agrees on one thing: the media and content landscape has changed in ways we could never have even imagined back in 1990 when the Children’s Television Act was passed.
Our media consumption habits are changing constantly. What we choose to pay for inside and outside of the home as well as what devices we use will continue to change in perpetuity – so should our discussions about how the government regulates media and content delivery. We have reached an inflection point, and the Federal Communications Commission has recently opened the door to the public to examine its own rules. On Thursday, July 12, the FCC will vote on adopting a notice of proposed rulemaking to update children’s television programming rules. This proposal, introduced by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, is expected to pass and proceed to a public comment period. The Commission rightly recognizes that now is the time for a public examination of how we as consumers participate in this process and soon everyone can make their voices heard.
Interestingly, there is basic agreement among all parties concerned – on both the right and the left – about the merits of re-examining the rules. Even some of the most vocal detractors are advocating for a fresh look at them. In a recent press release, one of these organizations concluded, “We are truly grateful to FCC Commissioner O’Rielly for his leadership on this potentially thorny issue. He is right that we need to revisit successful programming…which helped to inform and educate generations of children. It’s high time for modernizing and improving the rules, and we look forward to working with him and with his colleagues during this review process.” [^1] Another letter last week to the FCC noted, “We do not oppose updating the children’s television rules for the changed new media environment, nor do we oppose changing regulations that are unduly burdensome.” [^2]
So, who’s the expert here? The Federal Communications Commission? Broadcasters? Legislators? Public interest and free-market groups? The more voices in the conversation the better. While there’s merit to the inside baseball part of this discussion, there are also everyday folks who are the real subject matter experts on this issue: parents.
Toddler tantrum in the car? PBS or YouTube Kids apps on a smartphone to the rescue. Little one at home sick with the blues? Broadcast, public or cable television on the TV to the rescue. Wheels have come off during dinner at your favorite restaurant? Amazon Prime or Netflix on a tablet. Parents have more choices in children’s educational and informational programming than ever, and what and where and changes sometimes as often as several times throughout the day.
The voices of those hesitant to changes to the rules generally center around one thing: the assumption that changes to the current rules will harm children in low-income families and minority households. The primary concern is that children who are in low-income homes that can’t afford cable or internet will be disenfranchised by modernization of the rules. Let me be clear: there’s no one in this conversation who is advocating for harming children – no one. And if the data existed that updating these regulations would disadvantage children whose parents cannot afford pay for television or the internet, no one would have a leg to stand on here. The conversation simply would not be happening. But that data does not in fact exist.
The data tells us this [^3] :
- Of U.S. households, only 1.04% have children present in the home and have neither cable nor internet access.
- Of U.S. households, only 0.63% have children present in the home, have neither cable nor internet access and a household income of less than $30,000 per year.
- Of U.S. households, only 0.45% have children present in the home, have neither cable nor internet access, a household income of less than $30,000 per year and are minority households.
We also know that “about two-in-ten Hispanics (22%) and 15% of blacks are “smartphone only” internet users – meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone. As is true of the population more broadly, smartphones play an especially prominent role in providing online access to blacks and Hispanics with relatively low household incomes. Only around half of blacks and Hispanics from households earning less than $30,000 per year have traditional broadband service at home. But 63% of blacks and 69% of Hispanics in this income bracket are smartphone owners.” [^4]
So, we begin the formal discussion Thursday about examining the Kid Vid rules with all parties involved in agreement that the rules must be modernized. And as the process advances, we should keep a keen eye on the data when concerns arise.
Regardless of the outcome, the FCC and Commissioner O’Rielly deserve praise for addressing this issue and opening a transparent and public dialogue.
[^1]: Parents Television Council. (2018, June 27). PTC Comments on FCC’s KidVid Rulemaking Procedure [Press release]. Retrieved from http://w2.parentstv.org/Main/News/Detail.aspx?docID=3436
[^2]: Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood et al. “To Commissioner Michael O’Rielly” 29 June 2018. Retrieved from https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10629207618752/FCC%20CTA%20Letter%206.29.18.pdf
[^3]: GFK’s Media Research Intelligence (MRI) Doublebase 2017
[^4]: Pew Research Center. (2017, August 31, 2017). Smartphones help blacks, Hispanics bridge some – but not all – digital gaps with whites. Retrieved from