Public TV volunteers to do kidvid duties for commercial broadcasters

Originally published in Current, Oct. 23, 1995

By Steve Behrens

Public TV has endorsed an FCC proposal that TV stations be allowed to satisfy their children's TV obligations by sponsoring programs on other channels.

But instead of expecting broadcasters to support educationally valuable kidvid separately in each market, the commission should be open to innovative multi-market arrangements, including support of national shows for PBS, according to joint comments filed Oct. 16 by PBS and America's Public Television Stations.

CPB separately endorsed the "sponsorship" proposal that public TV stations could serve as "host" for programs sponsored by commercial broadcasters. And FCC Chairman Reed Hundt has spoken frequently in favor of the sponsorship idea.

But other parties on both sides of the kidvid issue are cool to sponsorship. Children's TV activist Peggy Charren says that letting commercial broadcasters pay public TV to carry educational kidvid would mean that there probably would be just one channel of it available at any given moment. And Charren's arch-foes, the National Association of Broadcasters, oppose kidvid rules altogether, asserting that they're both unnecessary and unconstitutional.

APTS/PBS urged the commission to be flexible in enforcing the sponsorship option. A commercial network, for instance, might propose to contribute funds to a PBS Children's Programming Fund on behalf of its affiliates, the comments said. The streamlined arrangement would automatically assure that the money would go to new educational kidvid productions, which would be aired widely.

Or a commercial network itself might produce a qualifying series for kids--and retain ancillary rights--while letting public TV stations broadcast it.

The important thing is to allow deals "that encompass enough markets to assure the aggregation of sufficient resources to finance the production of educationally effective children's programming," APTS/PBS commented.

Funds have to be aggregated because the programs are expensive to make, they said. Forty episodes of Wishbone cost $20 million to make; 65 of Bill Nye the Science Guy come for $11 million; and 40 of Puzzle Place require $10.3 million.

Educationally effective kidvid costs an average of $250,000 an hour to make, according to a Bortz & Co. study cited in the filing. Licensing a daily strip of 65 hour-long shows would cost a commercial station $28,600 to $162,110 a year.

In some markets and dayparts, that cost of licensing a national production would exceed what the station gained by not having to air two hours of educational kidvid a week, APTS/PBS told the FCC.

The commission asked commenters to estimate a station's "opportunity cost" of educational kidvid--the additional revenue that a station would earn by not having to carry educational kidvid. APTS/PBS submitted a Bortz estimate that this amount would range from $16,000 to $383,000 a year for two hours of programming a week.

APTS/PBS also proposed several provisions to make sure that sponsorship would achieve the objective of increasing broadcasts of educational kidvid. For the broadcaster to take credit, APTS/PBS proposed, the sponsored programs:

would have to actually air in the broadcaster's home market (cable transmissions wouldn't count),

would have to represent an increase in the broadcaster's spending on "educationally effective children's programming,"

would preferably be new productions, in order to add to the stock of programs available in the marketplace, and

would have to meet children's "educational and informational needs," as the FCC evaluates them.

The rules should permit public TV stations as well as commercial ones to meet their obligations by sponsoring programs on other local channels, APTS/PBS added.

The FCC also should find a way to certify certain arrangements in advance so that broadcasters can be sure that it will accept them as adequate, the papers advised.

Implementing 1990 legislation

The comments were filed in an FCC proceeding that follows up on the Children's Television Act of 1990, which called for rules requiring TV stations to serve "the educational and informational needs of children" through its overall schedule and through "programming specifically designed to serve such needs."

In weighing a station's performance at license renewal time, the act also authorized the FCC to consider any children's educational programs that a station sponsors, even if the shows are aired on another station. In April, the commission asked for comments on rules to implement this kind of "program sponsorship."

Specifically, the commission suggested a "3-2-1" rule. A station wouldn't be allowed to satisfy its entire educational kidvid obligation by hiring it out, but assuming that the FCC sets the obligation at 3 hours a week (for example), the broadcaster could sponsor 2 hours on another channel and air 1 hour itself. The formula might also turn out to be 5-4-1, or 100%-70%-30% or some other breakdown, the FCC said.



To Current's home page

Current Briefing: Kidvid that's good for kids?

Later news: Kidvid advocates including Children's Television Workshop oppose "sponsorship" arrangement, 1996.


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