FCC chairman Julius Genachowski will be the headliner at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing July 22, which is billed as a "rethinking" of the Children's Television Act in the digital age.
It will be Genachowski's first appearance before a congressional hearing as chairman. He was sworn in June 29.
The act, which passed in 1990, established mandatory minimums (three hours per week) for educational kids television on braodcast TV. The hearing is believed to be a broad inquiry into how and whether the bill needs to be updated to reflect the explosion in screens and channels beyond traditional broadcast to cable, satellite, computers, cell phones and other portable personal devices. A committee spokesperson had not returned a call at press time.
A source familiar with the witness list confirmed the chairman would lead off the hearing, with a second panel featuring representatives from Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop--likely workshop president Gary Knell-- and at least one other witness, though at press time several members of the kids TV activist community said they were taken by surprise by the hearing and knew of no activist invitees.
Genachowski brings more than his new title to the issue. He is a founding board member of non-profit Common Sense Media .Common Sense provides media ratings and reviews across a variety of platforms for major media companies including top cable operators Cox, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. In addition it advocates for more parental, and if need be governmental, oversight of kids media choices.
The FCC has already done some rethinking, modifying its rules to include kids TV quotas for digital muliticast streams, but committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has signaled his interest in looking at kids and TV content issues. He is also on the record as concerned about interactive advertising and kids programming.
One of the kids media activists surprised by the hearing was Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Demcracy, who said he hoped the hearing signaleed a rethinking of the bill in light of all the new places kids can be marketed to. He has been a loud and leading voice for more government attention on marketing to kids by media companies online, where increasingly more video content is residing.
"It's timely for Congress to re-examine how the TV and digital media industry are serving the educational needs of young people, as well as the impact advertising has on them," he told Multichannel News. "But the world which saw they need to pass the original CTA has dramatically changed. Any examination of a CTA for the digital age must review the state of the online media and youth: especially social networks, online video, games, and mobile services.
"We hope this is the first in a series of hearings on ensuring young people are well-served by powerful digital age services."