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Children and Television

The 1990 Children’s Television Act (CTA) was passed to increase the amount of educational and informational television programming for children. CTA requires broadcast stations to serve the educational and informational needs of children through its overall programming, including programming specifically designed to serve these needs (“core programming”). Core programming is programming specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children ages 16 and under. CTA requires that broadcasters:

  • Provide parents and consumers with advance information about core programs being aired.
  • Define the type of programs that qualify as core programs.
  • Air at least three hours per week of core educational programming.
  • Limit the amount of time devoted to commercials during children’s programs.

Fueled in part by growing public sentiment against the increasingly violent nature of television programming, NTIA and FCC officials recommended that federal law give parents greater control over the programming viewed by their children. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 introduced a ratings system that requires television shows to be rated for violence and sexual content. The act also created the so-called V-chip, a receptor inside television sets that gives parents the ability to block programs they find unsuitable for their children. Under the act, authority to establish TV ratings is given to a committee comprised of parents, television broadcasters, television producers, cable operators, public interest groups, and other interested individuals from the private sector.

In 2004, the FCC imposed children’s educational and informational programming obligations on digital multicast broadcasters. Effective January 1, 2006, at least three hours per week of core programming must be provided on the main programming stream, for digital broadcasters. The minimum amount of core programming increases for digital broadcasters that multicast; it increases in proportion to the amount of free video programming offered by the broadcaster on multicast channels. The FCC also limited the amount of commercial matter on all digital video programming, whether free or pay, that is aimed at an audience 12 years old and under.

Beginning January 1, 2006, the FCC also imposed rules governing and limiting the display of Internet web site addresses during programs directed at children 12 and under. The requirements apply to both analog and digital programming. Moreover, FCC rules prohibit “host-selling”. According to the FCC, host-selling is any character endorsement that may confuse a child viewers from distinguishing between program and non-program material.

Inside Children and Television