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On October 10, 2019, the FCC announced that it will hold a full-power FM Broadcast auction for 130 new construction permits starting on April 28, 2020.  For now, the FCC is seeking comment on the procedures for the auction, although it does not propose any significant changes from past FM broadcast auctions.  In connection with the auction, the FCC also announced a filing freeze prohibiting minor change applications, petitions, or counter-proposals directly affecting or failing to protect the construction permits to be auctioned.

A majority of the construction permits will be for lower-power Class A facilities, but there are 28 new facilities that are authorized to operate at 25 kW or higher.  For example, a Class B facility in Sacramento will be available, along with stations on the outskirts of major cities like Dallas and Seattle.  Overall, Texas is home to the most available permits (32), with numerous opportunities also available in Wyoming (11), California (10), and Arizona (8).

Parties seeking to file comments regarding the list of available construction permits and/or the auction procedures should submit them by November 6, 2019.  Reply comments are due November 20, 2019.  After reviewing the record, the FCC will release the final list of available permits and auction procedures, most likely in early January 2020.

 

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Quarterly documentation of stations’ compliance with their obligations under the Children’s Television Act of 1990 for the Third Quarter of 2019 is due to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by October 10, 2019, and in the case of educational children’s television programming, to be filed electronically with the FCC on that same date. 

Interim Filing Procedures Regarding Educational Children’s Television Programming

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 requires full power and Class A television stations to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.  On July 12, 2019, the FCC adopted a number of changes to its children’s television programming rules, primarily with respect to the educational television programming requirements.  Substantively, the new rules provide broadcasters with additional flexibility in scheduling educational children’s television programming, and modify some aspects of the definition of “core” educational children’s television programming.  These portions of the revisions went into effect on September 16, 2019.

Procedurally, the new rules eliminate quarterly filing of the Children’s Television Programming Report in favor of an annual filing, and change other information collection and reporting provisions.  Unfortunately, the rule changes that affect broadcasters’ reporting requirements have not yet been approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and the report form itself has not been updated to reflect the new substantive requirements.

As a result, for purposes of the quarterly Children’s Television Programming Report due on October 10, 2019, broadcasters should answer all questions regarding such programming that aired prior to September 16, 2019, and should not respond to the question concerning what programming will be aired in the upcoming quarter.  When calculating the average number of hours per week of educational children’s television programming aired, broadcasters should only consider the first 11 weeks of the quarter.  Programming aired on or after September 16, 2019 is to be reported on the station’s next report.

The next report will be broadcasters’ first “annual” Children’s Television Programming Report and will cover the period from September 16, 2019 through December 31, 2019.  That report must be filed by January 30, 2020.

Summary of Changes 

Prior to September 16, 2019, the FCC’s educational children’s television programming rules generally required that a station air an average of 3 hours of “core” educational children’s television programming per week on each of its streams, averaged over a six-month period, to receive staff-level license renewal approval.  To be considered a “core” program, the program had to be specifically designed to meet the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under; be identified as such on-air with the “E/I” symbol displayed throughout the airing of the programming; be identified to publishers of program guides along with the target age range of the program; be “program-length,” that is, at least 30 minutes in length; and be regularly scheduled to air on a weekly basis between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.  In addition, broadcasters had to identify the educational purpose of the program in their quarterly Children’s Television Programming Report and advertise the availability and location of that report to the public.  Further provisions applied with regard to preempting and making good educational children’s television programming and the treatment of educational children’s programming airing on two of a station’s programming streams during a quarter.

The FCC’s new rules revise both the three hour per week renewal processing guideline and the definition of core children’s television programming.  Specifically, as of September 16, 2019, stations can continue to meet their obligation by airing an average of 3 hours per week of regularly-scheduled, weekly, program-length educational programming on their primary stream, but are not required to air additional children’s television programming on their multicast streams.  As an alternative to airing 3 hours per week of regularly-scheduled educational programming, stations may now air 26 hours per quarter (2 hours per week) of regularly scheduled, weekly, program-length educational programming, and air an additional 52 hours of programming throughout the year that is not provided on a regularly-scheduled basis (such as educational specials or other non-weekly programming) which is at least 30 minutes in length.   Alternatively, these 52 hours of non-regularly-scheduled programming can be educational programming that is less than 30 minutes in length, such as PSAs or interstitials.

Under any scenario, licensees may move up to 13 hours per quarter of their regularly-scheduled, program-length educational children’s television programming to a multicast stream, but any station opting to air 52 hours per year of programming that it is not regularly-scheduled must air that programming on the station’s primary stream.  In addition, broadcasters are permitted to count as regularly-scheduled any children’s educational program episode that was preempted but made good within seven days before or after the date on which it was originally scheduled to air.

For purposes of compliance with the new rules in the Fourth Quarter of 2019, stations must therefore either air 45 hours of regularly-scheduled weekly core programming on their primary stream from September 16 through December 31, 2019, or they must air at least 30 hours of such programming (at least 4 hours on or before September 30) and an additional 15 hours of core programming that is not regularly-scheduled and which may be less than 30 minutes in length.  Of those 30 hours, up to 2 hours can air on the station’s multicast streams on or before September 30 and up to 13 hours can air on the station’s multicast streams from November 1 to December 31.  All of the remaining 15 hours of non-regularly-scheduled or short form programming must air on the station’s primary stream.

Third Quarter 2019 Filing Requirements

Turning back to the Third Quarter 2019 Report due on October 10, broadcasters must comply with two paperwork requirements.  Specifically, stations must (1) place in their Public Inspection File one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit the Children’s Television Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule H, which is often referred to by its former designation as Form 398), which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under.  The Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed electronically with the FCC.  The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Children’s Television Programming Report filings into the respective station’s Public Inspection File.  However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its Public Inspection File is complete. Continue reading →