The 1990 Children’s Television Act recommended broadcast TV stations to include some educational programming for children (so called KidVid). Six years later, the Congressional tone had become strident and the FCC demanded mandatory compliance on KidVid specifications covering amount of programming, scheduling, and a ban on adverts. Failure to comply would mean failure to qualify for renewal of the broadcast license. The loss would be a license is a death sentence to a broadcaster.
The KidVid obligation was intended to supplement learning materials suitable for children, especially for those in households lacking books and other educational material. Neither the Congress nor the FCC seemed to imagine the avalanche of new programming that the internet would foster, and they made no allowance for adjusting the reliance on broadcast TV.
Providing an easy digestible educational supplement was laudable. The supplement would have been far more effective if it engaged the parent’s participation in the child’s learning experience – something KidVid did not address. The sentiment at the time was that educational TV programming without a parent’s participation is better than nothing at all.
In the 22 years since 1996, educational programs from broadcast TV have been a welcomed influence, especially in classrooms. The mandatory KidVid programs are now a small part of the education, information, and entertainment fare available to children through all sources and through all devices – mobile broadband apps, cable channels, and streaming services.
Those advanced services have penetrated almost every home. Nielsen reports that only 0.5% of homes with children lack cable or internet. But even in low income households, smartphones are commonplace and can deliver a rich variety of educational video materials.
KidVid is not the only source of educational and informational fare available to children and their parents. At any point in time, there are hundreds of great programs that are suitable and available for children to view on their TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone screens.
Common Sense Media recommends hundreds of the best, child-suitable TV shows and series grouped by age (from 2 years old to 14+years). Those best programs for children are available from 29 channels; ABC, BBC, BBC America, CBS, CNN, Comedy Central, CW, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family Channel, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Fox, Freeform, Hallmark Channel, IFC, National Geographic Channel, NBC, Netflix, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, PBS, Spike, Sprout, SyFy, TeenNick, TV Land, Universal Kids and UPtv.
Some of those are broadcasters who the FCC tasked with 3 hours of regularly scheduled children programs each week. But today, most of the programing is not the product of KidVid regulation, yet they produce and air most of children’s fare and much of best fare.
Unlike in 1996, today a children’s video program is not “one-and-done.” After an initial airing, many children’s programs can be viewed whenever the child is ready, via the originating channel’s or the cable networks’ on-demand inventory. Many can also be viewed from the very large inventories of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and other streaming services.
New sources such as Apple and HBO are committed to producing high quality children’s programming, and the market suggests interest in children’s programming will persist. Children’s programming attracts potential new subscribers looking for meaningful programming for their family. As a result, juggernauts like Facebook plan to offer teen video programing because it will satisfy consumer demand. Google’s YouTube already caters to children looking for good programs.
An Amazon monthly subscription called FreeTime Unlimited offers iOS users access to over 10,000 TV shows, movies, and books aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 12. The online FreeTime library includes choices from Lego, Sesame Street, National Geographic Kids videos, Paddington and Disney books, and much more. The offer is especially relevant for families who lack TV but have a smartphone.
Clearly the vast inventory of children’ access to the best of today’s educational programs cannot be attributed to the 1996 FCC mandate applying to broadcast television stations. Today, children’s educational programming is a result of industry response to consumer demands.
The role for an FCC KidVid mandate has been superseded by the market and by technology. The market shows there has been abundant commercial motivation to produce more children’s programming and that households have both the technical means to view those programs and a wide range of choices to choose from them.