Children's Television Act

The Children's Television Act is a rule that was enacted in 1990 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States, which 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 FCC adopted new rules to strengthen the enforcement of this statutory mandate.[1][2] These new rules were:

A central goal of the rules in the FCC's revision to the Act is 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 revision to the rules implemented by the FCC require 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.[3]


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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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 advertisements appeared before or after children's programs.[17]

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. 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.[18]

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".[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

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

Former children's programming blocks

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Lawrie Mifflin (August 9, 1996). "U.S. Mandates Educational TV for Children". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 16. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Quality Television for Children". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. August 16, 1996. p. 32. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
  3. Landrea Wells. "Children and Television". University of Florida. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  4. Dennis Wharton (October 30, 1995). "NAB, FCC Square Off Over Kidvid". Variety. Reed Business Information (13): 183.
  5. Diane Hayes (September 12, 2008). "The Children's Hour Revisited: The Children's Television Act of 1990". 46 (2).
  6. Andy Levinsky (November–December 1999). "Unintended Consequences". The Humanist. 59 (6): 3.
  7. Sandra Calvert; Jennifer Kotler (2003). "Children's Television Act: Can Policy Make a Difference". Applied Developmental Psychology (24): 375–380.
  8. Andy Levinsky (November–December 1999). "Unintended Consequences". The Humanist. 59 (6): 4.
  9. Andy Levinsky (November–December 1999). "Unintended Consequences". The Humanist. 59 (6): 5.
  10. Scott Conley (June 17, 2010). "The Children's Television Act: Reasons and Practice". Syracuse Law Review.
  11. "General Cable Television Industry and Regulation information Factsheet". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  12. Dale Kunkal; Donald Roberts (April 14, 2010). "Young Minds and Marketplace Values: Issues in Children's Television Advertising". Social Issues. 47 (1): 57–72.
  13. Simone French; Mary Story (February 2004). "Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US". International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 1 (3). doi:10.1186/1479-5868-1-3. PMC 416565Freely accessible. PMID 15171786.
  14. Howard L. Taras (1995). "Advertised Foods on Children's Television". Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 149 (6): 649–652. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1995.02170190059010.
  15. Andy Levinsky (November–December 1999). "Unintended Consequences". The Humanist. 59 (6): 6.
  16. Daniel McGinn (November 10, 2002). "Guilt Free TV". Newsweek. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  17. Harry Jessell (November 6, 2000). "Commercial Overload". Broadcasting & Cable. 130 (46): 19.
  18. 1 2 "Preteen Saturday Morning Kids Shows Abandoned By Broadcast Networks". Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  19. "The Children's Television Act of 1990". TVIV. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  20. Amy Jordan; Emory Woodard IV (May 1998). "Growing Pains: Children's Television in the New Regulatory Environment". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 557: 83–95. doi:10.1177/0002716298557000007.
  21. Dr. Vee. "The Children's Television Act 1990-2010".
  22. Meg James (July 24, 2013). "CBS partners with Litton Entertainment for Saturday teen block". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  23. "NBC and Litton Entertainment Announce Fall 2016 Line-Up for The More You Know Programming Block". The Futon Critic. August 8, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  24. Kevin Downey (June 5, 2014). "CW Joins with Litton for Sat. Morning E/I Block". TVNewsCheck. NewsCheck Media. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  25. 1 2 Anthony Crupi (March 16, 2006). "Discovery, NBC to End Sat. Kids Block". Mediaweek. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  26. Amanda Kondolojy (December 18, 2013). "Steve Rotfield Clears New Science and Technology Two Hour E/I Block With FOX Station Group". TV by the Numbers. Zap2It (Tribune Media). Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  27. Paula Bernstein (December 4, 2001). "Discovery set to kid around with Peacock". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  28. Cynthia Littleton (December 3, 1997). "'Bus' rolling to Fox Kids". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved August 13, 2009.
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