SPEECH TO THE ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER'S
2nd ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON CHILDREN AND TELEVISION
June 9, 1997
GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME
I want to welcome you all to Annenberg's second annual conference on children and
television. Thank you, Kathleen, for inviting me, and above all, thank you all for the great work that
you have done and are doing to improve the quality of children's TV.
As most of you have probably heard by now, I have asked President Clinton to begin the
process of selecting my successor as chairman of the FCC. I intend to remain in my post until he has
completed that process. It has been a high honor to serve as chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission, but now it is high time for me to spend more time with my family. My
children Adam, Nathaniel,and Sara are growing up fast, and, as I know this particular audience can
well appreciate, I cannot afford to miss any more of their childhood.
It has been the thrill of my professional life to spend the last three and a half years at the center of the communications revolution. The work of the FCC has delivered huge benefits for the economy and our families.
Let me start by telling you briefly what we have already accomplished for kids --
The reports released this morning by the Annenberg Center tell me two things: first, that clear
and specific children's tv rules were sorely needed; and second, that there is still work to be done to
assure that these rules achieve their goal of improving and increasing the amount of educational and
informative programming for kids.
For example, your reports show that some broadcasters see the weekly three hour
requirement as a ceiling, not a floor. This proves what we knew -- that quantifiable standards are
necessary. I agree, however, that broadcasters should do much more.
Your studies show that while virtually all the programs aired for children on PBS were judged
to be of high quality and educational, only a third of those aired on the "big three" networks fell into
that same category.
This statistic about PBS is not surprising. It also makes clear to me that any plans for the
airing of commercials on public television are bad plans. While I honor those who are searching for
creative ways to keep public TV strong, the recent proposal to run commercials on PBS two nights
a week would, in my opinion, fundamentally alter the non-commercial nature of this unique and vital
broadcasting service. I would urge public broadcasters to reject this strategy.
On the other hand, it's obvious that significant, long term reliable funding should be provided
to the PBS system. We should all work together towards this goal.
Your surveys also report that over 40% of 10-17 years olds said they would be "much or
somewhat more" likely to watch a show identified as educational, compared to 21% who said they
would "much or somewhat less" likely to watch. Also, nearly two-thirds of parents said they provide
"a great deal" of supervision of their children's television viewing. These statistics show me that our
trust in kids and parents was well-founded -- and that they need and will use wisely the information
we have required in our rules to help them choose quality programming for their kids.
And your reports tell me that there is still work to be done. While it must be remembered that our definition of core programming doesn't go into effect until September, of the shows currently identified by commercial broadcasters as educational, your study found that fewer than one half could be considered educational by any reasonable benchmark. This statistic underscores that the designation of educational and informative programming by broadcasters must be accurate. This definitional issue is, I think, the crux of our rules, and by far the most difficult.
You report that even after our public information initiatives went into effect in January,
although broadcasters began airing the informational on-screen icons, few newspapers began to
identify programs designated as educational and informative for kids.
Your studies also indicate that in their discussion of specific programs, media critics and
columnists erroneously tend to lump all "children" together -- forgetting that the term refers to a wide
range of ages and needs. More than half of the parents surveyed said that their local newspaper was
not very helpful in helping them make decisions about their children's viewing. Newspapers can do
better than that for parents.
For you in this room are the true experts in this area. We at the FCC can only do so much.
In our Children's TV rules, we have attempted to provide the tools to facilitate easy access to
information regarding children's educational programming. But, it's really up to people like you and
organizations like Annenberg to dramatically improve educational programming for kids.
I applaud Annenberg's State of Children's Programming Report and I encourage you to
continue preparing, using scientific tools, a detailed report card rating all the kids shows and
evaluating just how well the core programming offered by broadcasters really teaches our children.
In fact, I would urge you to release such a report twice a year -- in September and in January. Last
year, Vice President Gore predicted that by now the networks would be "fighting each other to earn
the Annenberg Council's seal of approval." Today's studies reveal that most local broadcasters do
look to accreditation from children's advocacy groups or academics as proof that a program meets
As a parent, former teacher and as the Chairman of the FCC, I'm completely convinced that popular culture is one of the greatest influences on the physical and psychological condition of children. The impact of popular culture on kids is, of course, at the core of my job description.
With the support of many of you in this room, we took an historic step last August when we
replaced vague children's educational TV rules with a clear, enforceable 3-hour guideline. I see that
Peggy Charren is here today. Without her, this never would have happened. I also see Jeff Chester
and Kathy Montgomery of the Center for Media Education, who were also critical to our success.
They and many others represent the next generation of advocates for kids. I thank you all for your
The kidvid order was a profoundly significant turning point in Commission history. It was
the first time that the agency adopted clear and concrete rules to enforce the statutory requirement
that broadcasters serve the public interest. It proved that the Commission can ensure that trustees
of the public airwaves truly serve the public interest, while being sensitive to and respectful of First
The FCC's children's television rules are designed not to force the production of
programming destined to be ignored but to encourage programming that, announced in advance, will be eagerly tuned in by children and welcomed by parents.
We all know that if educational programs are not also entertaining, then -- like cleaning their
room or eating green vegetables -- kids will only watch them if parents tell them to.
In exchange for use of the public's airwaves, the Communications Act requires broadcasters
to serve the "public interest, convenience and necessity." For many years, the Commission
implemented this requirement with vague rules that were unfair and unenforceable -- unfair because
vague rules don't give broadcasters notice of what's required of them, and unenforceable because
relying on vague rules to punish speakers is an offense to the First Amendment.
As you all know only too well, the fight for clear guidelines wasn't easy. We got the
educational TV rule only after a long struggle, Washington-style. There was heavy lobbying against
these changes in the status quo. There were pressure tactics of many kinds against change. But the
new rules protecting the public interest in the media passed because unprecedented numbers of people
asked the FCC Commissioners to do the right thing.
President Clinton, Vice President Gore, a majority of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate wrote to endorse a three hour per week requirement. But what really pushed the debate in Washington was the more than 20,000 letters the Commission received from parents, teachers, children, social scientists, psychologists, and child advocacy groups all demanding better television for America's kids.
Under the FCC's new children's television rules, a broadcast licensee that can
demonstrate that it has aired at least three hours per week of "core children's programming"
will have its license renewal application approved by the Commission staff. A broadcaster
can also qualify under these guidelines if it can show that it has aired a package of different
types of educational and informational programming that, while containing somewhat less
than three hours per week of core programming, demonstrates at least an equivalent level of
commitment to educating and informing children.
Licensees that do not satisfy this commitment will be referred to the full Commission
As of January, broadcasters have been required to identify their upcoming fall shows that are
educational. Stations must also place, on a quarterly basis, programming reports in public FCC files.
We have made the reports filed to date available over the Internet on our website (email@example.com).
The programs themselves also must be identified as core programs, and commercial stations must also provide information identifying these programs to publishers of program guides along with an indication of the age group for which the program is intended.
Families for the first time will know which programs broadcasters have designated as
educational and informational and can decide for themselves whether these programs meet that
We define core children's educational programming as serving the educational and
informational needs of children ages 16 and under. To qualify, a program must be
specifically designed to meet the educational needs of children as opposed to general audience
programming that has some incidental educational value. Bill Nye -- not biker mice. This is the most
important evaluation, and this is where Annenberg's report cards are critical.
The programming must air at times when kids actually watch TV ( between the hours of 7:00
a.m. and 10:00 p.m), be at least 30 minutes in length and be a regularly scheduled weekly program.
Already, we have been approached by broadcasters and each of the networks regarding the
regularly scheduled requirement. They have requested the flexibility to preempt, on occasion, their
children's programming schedule for live sporting or other special events and still have these programs
qualify as core programming. This means, usually, Saturday mornings -- as your studies show, the
heart of most core kids programming on the networks. As you well know, it is crucial that these
programs be regularly scheduled -- so they can build audiences, are easily located by viewers, and so
that the continuing educational message is not lost in the shuffle. In some cases, some preemption
is probably acceptable, but in general preemption will undermine our kidvid rules. We'd like your
views on this topic.
We'd like your help in monitoring industry performance under the new rules over the next
three years. The new definition of core programming and the processing guideline take effect
September 1, 1997.
These rules should prove that modest but clear public interest guidelines can counter market
The Kidvid Market: A New Profit Center
In fact, we believe, and today's reports suggest, that we have already jumpstarted the
educational TV market. Our rules have already led to new partnerships and new companies working
to create educational programming that kids will want to watch. Your panel presentations later today
should shed more light on these developments.
We all know that children represent a large and developing market. There are 38.9 million
children ages 2 to 11 who live in households with TV's, according to Nielsen media research. And
they spend an average of 22 hours a week watching television--more than any other activity except
sleeping. Your studies also reveal that over 40% of all kids between the ages of two and seventeen
now have TVs in their bedrooms.
From all accounts, demand for quality children's programming is up. USA Today reported that "the FCC ruling started a feeding frenzy among producers and creators of potentially educational programming." Alice Cahn, head of children's programming at PBS said she's been swamped with inquiries about supplying educational programming to networks since the FCC ruling.
The trade press has been filled with stories quoting network executives discussing the
unprecedented increase in pitches by major companies for educational shows and the number of
people approaching them with ideas for educational programs -- including teachers, principals, and
The New York Times reports that programmers have turned to leading producers of
entertaining and educational shows to create shows with "PBS-caliber substance blended with
We all know the educational strength of a show such as PBS's Sesame Street. And, it comes
as no surprise that Nickelodeon has become the number one network in the children's market. Under
the visionary pioneering of Geraldine Laybourne, who you honor today, Nickelodeon set out to
identify what kids want to watch, tested ideas with children and kept in touch with their young
audience -- creating a unique children's programming style. Nickelodeon's innovative Blues Clues,
which is geared to preschoolers, premiered last Fall to record ratings and rave reviews, and
demonstrates that a program loaded with educational content can also make learning fun for kids.
Your studies also show that it has already been identified by parents as one of the top ten best
educational shows for kids.
And now, bringing this experience to network programming in her new position as
president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, where she also oversees all children's programming,
Communications Daily reported that Geraldine last week told network affiliates that the process of
assuring that the new kids shows were compliant with our rules "actually made the shows better."
Here are some examples of the exciting changes in the kids programming marketplace that
I've been reading about:
Early this year, Children's Television Workshop announced its largest rollout ever, including
shows for CBS's upcoming Fall schedule. Broadcasting & Cable reports that some projects in the
works include The Ghostwriter Mysteries, an extension of the PBS Ghostwriter franchise which
teaches reading and writing to 7-to-12-year olds; Problem #13, a comedy/adventure series
incorporating math into the story line; and Jam Inn!, a live-action show developing music
Scholastic, a respected name among educators, is developing educational shows like Clifford, an animated series based on the well-known book, and Spike and Satch, a show that introduces children to American culture and geography.
Program producers are also enlisting the expertise of educators in developing programs to
meet the educational and informational needs of children. Broadcasting & Cable reports that Boats-A-Float is a collaborative production between Bank Street College of Education and Sachs Family
Entertainment. This live action-strip is aimed at teaching problem-solving skills.
Popular game show programs tailored to kids' tastes are also headed our way, including a tot
version of Wheel of Fortune 2000, in which participants solve word and language puzzles. Click!
aims to test teens on history, math, and other academic subjects by linking questions to contemporary
Saban Entertainment, creators of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, has launched its first-ever educational series, The Why Why Family, which explains scientific principles to young children . An example of a question explored on one episode was, "What happens to the food we eat?" And, this Fall, Saban will bring us The All New Captain Kangaroo. In fact, I was involved in announcing the selection of the new Captain.
I've also been pleased to see that the new rule has also generated a new market for
consultants. The New York Times reports that Donna Mittroff, an educational advisor to WQED
(makers of "Mr. Rogers"), started her own consulting business and has acquired commercial clients,
like Saban. She summed up the shifting attitude toward educational TV -- commenting that when
she first came to L.A. in the 1980s, she took the Ph.D off of her business card because it was a "turn-off in the TV community." Now she has put it back on her card and makes sure people know it.
Our kidvid rules have been the catalyst for many of these changes. Now, of course, the
obligation shifts to parents and teachers to help build audiences for the new shows.
Now, it will be vitally important for PTAs, churches, and communities to advise parents on
how to build audiences for truly high quality educational TV. The conditions for doing this were
never in place before. Starting this Fall they will be. Educational TV will renew part of the broadcast
industry's social compact.
A Look Back: Other Broadcast Initiatives
Our communications policy embraces both market values and family values I have had a
simple, two point policy for broadcasting: a new social compact.
First, as a general rule, promote competition and deregulate.
Second, as a specific rule, where competition does not guarantee certain public benefits
from the use of the public spectrum, then write fair, clear rules to get those guarantees.
While defining the minimum public good everyone should expect from the media, we should
at the same time operate on the assumption that few commercial rules are necessary, except those that
protect against overconcentration or interference.
Consistent with this assumption, we repealed the prime-time access rule, also known as the
PTAR. We repealed the financial interest and syndication rules -- fin/syn. We repealed a rule
preventing networks from owning broadcast stations in small markets. We repealed the secondary
affiliation rule. We've recently initiated a rulemaking proceeding to look into ways to streamline the
main studio and public file rules.
Congress decided and we voted to give DTV licenses to today's broadcasters in order to
command them to carry the model of free, over-the-air TV into the digital age. In adopting a digital
television standard, we resisted efforts to mandate a format that would benefit any single industry.
Instead, we adopted a standard that would allow -- and already has allowed -- consumer electronics
and computer companies to compete.
We adopted a flexible-use policy limited only by our obligation to preserve free TV and to ensure that TV serves the public interest. This will maximize broadcasters' ability to work with the computer industry and others to respond to changes in technologies and markets and to launch digital television in a manner that will most rapidly drive the purchase of digital TV receivers.
And we promoted competition in use of the airwaves when our brilliant engineers designed an allocation plan that lets us retrieve 60 megahertz now and 78 megahertz when analog is defunct.
Beginning next year, television manufacturers will be required to install V-chips to
empower parents to control their children's access to violent programming. And, broadcasters
have agreed to a voluntary rating system designed to work in conjunction with the V-chip so that
parents will be able to screen out any program rated above a desired level.
Just last week several cable and broadcast networks announced plans to modify the ratings agreement to include on-screen information that specifies whether programs contain sex, violence or strong language. The FCC is ultimately charged with implementing this system and we will soon hold a public hearing to explore these issues.
More To Do
Despite all that we have accomplished, the Commission has more to do in the coming
Very soon, we will issue a Notice that will allow us to begin to consider the questions
regarding the public interest obligations of broadcasters and other users of the spectrum that
provide programming in an increasingly complex and digital marketplace.
The President will appoint a panel of broadcasters, public-interest advocates, and others to
give him recommendations on what form public-interest obligations should take. The Vice
President will chair the Commission.
The Commission must also address issues of broadcast ownership and attribution, the
promotion of diversity and opportunity in the ownership of the media, and the great potential of
free TV time for candidates to help solve the problem of campaign financing.
We must address the threat of hard liquor ads. I hope to soon release a Notice that will
launch an open and public debate about the effects of liquor ads on kids. The President, the
states, and dozens of members of Congress have asked for this inquiry.
We must address the difficult V-chip and ratings issues in a way that will truly give parents
the power to choose what their kids watch in the analog TV present and the digital TV future.
The Commission must also reverse the trend in the decline of the amount of time
broadcasters are devoting to public service announcements. The average time for network PSAs
is a alarmingly low 5 seconds per hour -- down from 12 seconds just three years ago. The public
needs PSAs because the public needs the messages they can deliver so effectively and so widely.
Recently, Speaker Gingrich called on the networks to take more responsibility in the war against
drugs, and General Colin Powell called on broadcasters to renew their commitment to meaningful
There is clearly a bi-partisan consensus that the public's airwaves must be used in the
And lastly, the Commission must monitor compliance with the children's educational TV rules to ensure that parents have quality educational tv to choose for their kids.
But again, you are the experts in this area. Judgments of quality are best made by the
audience and the experts. Indeed, in addressing the First Amendment concerns of broadcasters in
the kidvid proceeding, we made clear in our order that the FCC is not interested in influencing,
or, even knowing, the content or viewpoint of any programming. We don't intend to
unreasonably intrude on the programming decisions of broadcasters. We also readily admit that
our staff lacks the ability and the expertise to judge the true quality and effectiveness of this
You have this ability and expertise. And, as I've outlined, our rules should give you the
tools. Annenberg's detailed report card should be issued twice a year -- in September and in
January. It should use scientific tools to carefully evaluate just how well the core programming
offered by broadcasters really teaches our children. The FCC, the broadcasters, the public, and
our children would really benefit from such expert guidance.
While I have asked the President to find my successor, it is clear that the agenda of the
FCC is overflowing. During the remainder of my time at the agency I am committed to the goals
set forth in all of the decisions by this Commission -- promoting competition, promoting the
public interest, and with your help, making our television sets more kid-friendly.
- FCC -