The Federal Communications Commission Thursday adopted rules imposing new children’s-programming requirements on TV stations that use their digital spectrum to multicast.
Analog technology currently limits broadcasters to a single programming service, but digital technology permits the transmission of five or six services -- an opportunity for TV stations to compete more aggressively with cable and satellite.
Current FCC rules require TV stations to air three hours per week of children’s educational programming between 7 a.m.-10 p.m. The same three-hour requirement would apply to each multicast service, but in a more flexible manner.
For example, a digital-TV station multicasting three signals on an around-the-clock basis would face a nine-hour requirement. The main feed would have to provide three hours, but the station could air six hours on the second or third channel, provided those channels had roughly equivalent penetration on pay TV systems.
A digital-TV station that multicast a service 12 hours every day would have to provide 90 minutes per week of children’s educational programming, and that quota could be shifted to another channel, a commission source said.
The FCC built in flexibility to accommodate stations that do not want to interrupt a 24-hour news or weather service with a three-hour slate of children’s educational programming.
Digital-TV stations that failed to meet the FCC’s requirements would need to obtain license-renewal approval by a majority of the five commissioners, rather than by FCC staff.
After the commission’s meeting Thursday, the National Association of Broadcasters complained that digital-TV stations are facing new programming quotas while being denied mandatory cable carriage of the services to which the new rules would apply.
“The hard reality is this: Absent a strong DTV multicast-carriage rule for cable, there will be less incentive for broadcasters to create new educational shows for children and other public-interest programming. NAB urges the [FCC] to fulfill the intent of Congress and ensure that cable operators allow all free DTV broadcast programming to flow to consumers,” NAB president Edward Fritts said in a statement.
The cable industry has fought multicast must-carry, saying that it violates the First Amendment and invites TV stations to air low-quality programming that doesn’t have to compete with cable networks for access.