The broadcast of children's programming by terrestrial television stations in the United States is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under regulations colloquially referred to as the Children's Television Act (CTA), the E/I rules, or the Kid Vid rules. Since 1997, all full-power and Class A low-power television stations have been required to broadcast at least three hours (or more if they operate digital subchannels) per-week of programs that are specifically designed to meet the educational and informative (E/I) needs of children aged 16 and younger. There are also regulations on advertising in broadcast and cable television programming targeting children 12 and younger, including limits on ad time, and prohibitions on advertising of products related to the program currently airing.
Early regulations on educational programming were implemented by the FCC in 1991, as ordered by the Children's Television Act—an Act of Congress passed in 1990. They included a requirement for television stations to document their broadcasting of programs which "[further] the positive development of children 16 years of age and under in any respect, including the child's intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs", and a requirement for the FCC to use this as a factor in license renewals. Stricter regulations were implemented in 1997, requiring all stations to broadcast at least 3 hours of programming per-week that is designed to educate and inform viewers aged 16 and younger, and introducing requirements regarding on-air identification of these programs, and more stringent reporting requirements.
The E/I regulations had a major impact on U.S. television; the syndication market was bolstered by demand for compliant educational programming, while the Saturday morning cartoon blocks traditionally aired by major networks began to increase their focus on educational children's programming. They were one of several factors that contributedto the decline of networked Saturday morning blocks, alongside the growth of cable channels (such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon) and other platforms serving youth demographics—which were not subject to the rule. By the 2010s, the Big Three networks and Fox had revamped their Saturday morning blocks to focus on factual programs aimed towards teens (which, additionally, excluded them from the restrictions on advertising load), with the majority having leased the airtime to the distributor Litton Entertainment. In 2014, The CW discontinued the last networked Saturday-morning block to still feature non-educational programming, in favor of another Litton-run block.
The educational programming regulations have faced mixed reception. There have historically been concerns over whether these mandates constitute a violation of broadcasters' rights to free speech. The FCC's initial regulations faced criticism for being too broad in its definition of children's educational programming, with stations attempting to various classify non-educational programs as containing educational elements. The regulations have been described by current FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly as "onerous" and outdated due to the cable and new media platforms that have emerged since their introduction.
This summary is from Wikipedia.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.
9/24/1990--Passed Senate amended.
Children's Television Act of 1990 - Title I: Regulation of Children's Television - Requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prescribe standards for commercial television broadcast licensees that limit the duration of advertising in programs for children to a specified number of minutes per hour. Instructs the FCC to initiate appropriate rulemaking proceedings within 30 days of this Act's enactment and to promulgate the final standards within 180 days of enactment. Authorizes modifications of the limitations after January 1, 1993, in accordance with the public interest. Directs the FCC, when reviewing any application for a television broadcast license renewal, to consider compliance with these advertising standards, as well as the licensee's programming in connection with the educational and information needs of children. Permits the FCC to consider additional efforts by the licensee to support or enhance educational and informational programming. Directs the FCC, within 180 days of this Act's enactment, to complete the proceeding known as "Revision of Programming and Commercialization Policies, Ascertainment Requirements and Program Log Requirements for Commercial Television Stations." Title II: Endowment for Children's Educational Television - National Endowment for Children's Educational Television Act of 1990 - Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to establish, under the direction of the Secretary of Education, a National Endowment for Children's Educational Television for the purpose of creating and producing television programming specifically directed toward the development in children of fundamental intellectual skills. Directs the Secretary, in administering the Endowment, to: (1) contract with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for producing educational television programming for children; and (2) make grants to persons creating and producing such programming. Requires the Secretary to consult with the Advisory Council on Children's Educational Television in making such contracts or grants. Authorizes the Secretary to make contracts with, or grants to, persons using other forms of media and to apply conditions to such contracts or grants pertaining to the availability of such programming to commercial television licensees and cable system operators. Authorizes the Secretary to waive grant conditions in certain circumstances. Directs the Secretary to establish the criteria for making such contracts or grants. Outlines grant application requirements. Limits amounts authorized for such grants. Directs the Secretary to establish an Advisory Council on Children's Educational Television. Requires members appointed to have expertise in the fields of education, psychology, child development, television programming, or related disciplines. Requires each grant recipient to maintain such records as are reasonably necessary to enable the Secretary to carry out functions under this Act. Gives the Secretary and the Comptroller General access to all documents of grant recipients for auditing and examination purposes. Authorizes appropriations for FY 1991 and 1992 to carry out this Act.