Children's Programming and Advertising

Earlier this week, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing its plans for the initiation of new annual reporting requirements for TV stations under the revised Children’s Television Rules. As we wrote here, the FCC this summer adopted changes in the rules governing the broadcast of educational and informational programming directed to children. These changes included the abolition of the Quarterly Children’s Television Reports and their replacement with an annual Children’s Report to detail a station’s performance in meeting the new educational and informational programming requirements. Earlier this fall, the FCC released guidance on the reporting of information from the third quarter of this year, as the new rules became effective on September 16 (see our article here). The Public Notice released this week covers the full transition to the annual reports.

The FCC anticipates the revised annual report will be ready for use in the FCC’s LMS database by January 1, 2020.  Children’s television programming aired on or after the September 16, 2019 effective date of the new rules will be reported by commercial full power and Class A television stations on a broadcaster’s first annual Children’s Report, which will be due no later than January 30, 2020. The FCC’s Media Bureau will issue another public notice announcing the actual effective date of the revised form.    
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October is one of the busiest months on the broadcaster’s regulatory calendar. On October 1, EEO Public Inspection file reports are due in the online public file of stations that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. An employment unit is one or more commonly controlled stations in the same geographic area that share at least one employee.

October 1 is also the deadline for license renewal filings by radio stations (including FM translators and LPFM stations) in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On the 1st and 16th of the month, stations in those states, and in North and South Carolina, need to run post-filing announcements on the air informing listeners about the filing of their license renewal applications. Pre-filing announcements about the upcoming filing of license renewal applications by radio stations in Alabama and Georgia also are to run on the 1st and 16th. See our post here on the FCC’s reminder about the pre- and post-filing announcements.
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The FCC’s recent action reforming many of the rules governing the broadcast of TV programming serving the educational and informational needs of children will go into effect on September 16 (see our articles here and here). Yet, at the same time as it was announcing the process by which these rules will be implemented (see our post from yesterday), it released two consent decrees resolving apparent violations of the old KidVid rules revealed in license renewal applications filed many years ago. In one case, the FCC agreed to a financial penalty of $109,000 to be paid by Nexstar in connection with violations at two stations – one in Arkansas and one in Texas. These violations apparently first arose in connection with license renewals filed almost 15 years ago. In another case involving a religious commercial station in Pullman, Washington, the financial penalty was $30,700 for violations that were identified in connection with its 2014 license renewal application. In both cases, the licensees agreed, in addition to the financial penalties, to institute compliance plans to ensure that future violations of the children’s television rules do not occur at any commonly owned stations.

The Consent Decree entered into by the Washington station penalized the station for preempting children’s programming for station fundraisers so that it did not meet the obligation to air an average of 3 hours of weekly “core programming” addressing children’s educational and informational needs. Certain supplemental programming claimed by the station to substitute for the underperformance was aired outside of the hours in which “core programming” must air to receive credit toward a station’s obligations (currently those hours are 7 AM to 10 PM, but they will expand to 6 AM to 10 PM on September 16). The FCC also identified errors in the Quarterly Children’s Television Reports submitted by the station (as we reported yesterday, these reports will be replaced by an annual filing after the final quarterly report that is due by October 10).
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Many of the revisions to the FCC’s Children’s Television rules become effective on September 16 (as we wrote here), though there are portions of the revised rules whose implementation will be delayed pending approval by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act. The FCC earlier this week released a Public Notice detailing which provisions will become effective on September 16. That notice also discusses how stations should report on their educational and informational programming directed to children on their next Quarterly Children’s Television Report, due to be filed at the FCC by October 10.

As we noted in our earlier article on the effective date, many of the new rules, including the following, will go into effect on September 16: (1) allowing “core programming” (i.e., the programs which meet the educational and informational programming requirements) to air starting at 6 AM (instead of 7 AM under the current rules); (2) eliminating the obligation to air additional core programming for each multicast channel operated by a station; (3) allowing some core programming to air on multicast streams instead of the main program channel; (4) allowing some short-form programming to substitute for core programming of at least 30 minutes; and (5) allowing more flexibility in the preemption of children’s programs. Not going into effect for now are rules relating to changes in the notifications to program guides, rules relating to public notice of preemptions and “second homes” of preempted programs, and the elimination of the need for noncommercial TV stations to display the E/I symbol in children’s programs. Also awaiting OMB approval and thus not yet effective are the rules changing the FCC reporting requirements from a quarterly obligation to an annual one. Yesterday’s public notice addressed how stations are supposed to complete their Quarterly Reports in this interim period.
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With the summer winding down, you can expect that come September, like everywhere else, Washington will leap back to life and the government will try to accomplish what they can before the end of the year. That will no doubt mean some regulatory actions (and potentially court actions and legislative actions) affecting broadcasters this Fall, though what they are remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is plenty to keep broadcasters busy. While September is one of those months in which there are few of the normally recurring filing deadlines (no EEO reports, renewal filings or quarterly reports need to be submitted during the month), there is one big deadline that no commercial broadcaster should forget – the filing of annual regulatory fees.

We understand that there is an order circulating at the FCC right now to set the final amount of the regulatory fees for the year. As these fees must be paid before October 1 when the government’s new fiscal year begins, we can expect that order shortly, with fees due at some point in September. As the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposed significant unexplained increases in the fees paid by radio, and a change to the methodology used to compete TV fees, moving from a DMA-based fee to one calculated based on an individual station’s predicted coverage (which had the effect of raising some fees, especially for high-powered VHF stations, while lowering others), a number of broadcasters and the NAB complained about those proposals. Watch for the FCC’s decision in the coming days to see how it addresses these complaints about the proposed fees, and to see when the fees will be due.
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Notice was published in the Federal Register today of the FCC’s changes in the children’s television rules – setting the effective date for most of those new rules as September 16. The elimination of the obligation to air three hours of children’s educational and informational programming for each digital multicast channel will expire on that

The FCC at its open meeting last week took two actions important to TV broadcasters – modifying its children’s television rules and changing the process by which TV stations give notice to MVPDs of their must carry or retransmission consent elections.  On the children’s television rules, the FCC largely adopted the proposals in their draft order, which we summarized here.  The major additions to the final version of the Order (here) were the individual statements of the Commissioners, where the Republicans supported the decision as a common-sense reaction to changing market conditions (including an increase in the number of over-the-air stations since the rules were initially adopted, as well as all sorts of new media competition), while the Democrats worried that moving some long-form educational and informational programming addressed to children off the broadcaster’s primary program streams, and the replacement of some of that programming with short-form programming, would have an adverse impact on children – particularly children in lower-income households with less access to digital alternatives.  The new rules will become effective after their publication in the Federal Register.  Comment dates on the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider whether TV broadcasters can be relieved of some children’s television obligations by supporting the development of educational and informational programming on other TV stations will also be determined after Federal Register publication.

Also adopted at the meeting was a Report and Order setting out new rules allowing TV broadcasters to give notice of their next set of must-carry or retransmission consent notifications electronically rather than by certified mail, as is currently required.  The Order sets out a process where, before the next election deadline in October 2020, broadcasters need to include in their online public files a statement as to whether they have elected must-carry or retransmission consent on MVPDs in their market (and, if the station has elected one carriage option for all systems, the notice can be as simple as “Station WXYZ has elected must-carry on all cable systems in the Anytown DMA”).  If the station decides to change that election for any MVPD, they notify the MVPD of the change by email.  MVPDs must register a contact person for the receipt of such notices in their public files and in the FCC’s COALS database, so that broadcasters know who to contact if they are planning to change their election.  The broadcaster emails its notice of a changed election to the cable system (with a copy to a new FCC email address) and puts a copy of the election in its online public file.  The cable system is supposed to electronically acknowledge the receipt of the notice (if it does not, the broadcaster is supposed to call the COALS-registered person at the registered phone number to make sure that the notice has been received – but if there is no response, the FCC and public file notices will suffice.  Of course, not having this information in a TV station’s public file would be a violation of the public file rules.
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July is an important month for regulatory filings – even though it is one of those months with no FCC submissions tied to any license renewal dates. Instead, quarterly obligations arise this month, the most important of which will have an impact in the ongoing license renewal cycle that began in June (see last month’s update on regulatory dates, here).  Even though there are no renewal filing deadlines this month, radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and DC must continue their on-air post-filing announcements on the 1st and 16th of the month.  On these same days, pre-filing announcements must be run by radio stations in North and South Carolina, who file their renewals by August 1.  Stations in Florida and Puerto Rico, who file on October 1, should be prepared to start their pre-filing announcements on August 1.  See our article here on pre-filing announcements.

Perhaps the most important date this month is July 10, when all full power AM, FM, Class A TV and full power TV stations must place their quarterly issues/programs lists in their online public inspection files.  The issues/programs list should include details of important issues affecting a station’s community, and the station’s programming aired during April, May, and June that addressed those issues.  The list should include the time, date, duration and title of each program, along with a brief description of each program and how that program relates to a relevant community issue.  We have written many times about the importance of these lists and the fact that the FCC will likely be reviewing online public files for their existence and completeness during the license renewal cycle – and imposing fines on stations that do not have a complete set of these lists for the entire license renewal period (see, for instance, our articles here, here and here).  So be sure to get these important documents – the only official documents that the FCC requires to show how a station has met its overall obligation to serve the public interest – into your online public file by July 10. 
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In anticipation of its July 10 open meeting, the FCC last week released its draft Order making changes to its rules requiring television stations to broadcast specific amounts of educational and informational programming directed to children.  The current rules require that stations air an average of three hours of such programming every week for every channel of programming they broadcast.  The current rules also impose all sorts of restrictions on programming for it to be considered “Core Programming” that can be counted toward meeting the three-hour per channel obligation.  The draft Order, if adopted at the July meeting, would ease some of the restrictions and, perhaps most importantly, eliminate the requirement that, for each multicast channel, three hours of unique educational programming directed to children be broadcast.

The Commission surveyed the current TV marketplace and found that, in the 15 years since it adopted the requirement that there be 3 hours of programming per multicast channel, much more educational and informational programming for children has become available – through public broadcasting and through new programming sources, including those delivered online.  Providing those three extra hours of educational and informational programming imposed significant cost burdens on broadcasters (even a weather radar channel carried with it a three-hour children’s programming obligation) for seemingly little benefit given the availability of so much other kids’ programming elsewhere.  The FCC draft Order also would change some of the specific requirements for station’s primary video channel.
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The license renewal cycle, about which we have been warning broadcasters for at least the last year (see, for instance, our posts here, here and here), is now upon us. June 3 is the filing deadline for license renewals for radio stations in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia. Radio stations (including FM translators and LPFMs) licensed to any community in any of those states should be filing their renewal applications in the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) by Monday’s deadline. The new FCC forms, as we wrote here, have been available since early May, so the renewal and the accompanying EEO program report should either be on file or ready to be filed in LMS by the June 3 filing deadline. These stations should also be running their postfiling license renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th of June, July and August. Radio stations in the next renewal group, in North and South Carolina, should begin their license renewal pre-filing announcements on June 1st and 16th as well, informing the public about the upcoming filing of their renewals due on August 1. See this article on pre-filing announcements for more information.

In addition, broadcasters in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees should also be preparing to add to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report. This report is due to be added to their online public files by June 1. A link to this report should also be placed on the station’s website, if it has a website.
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