Children’s TV inquiry in; interactive kids’ DTV ads out, says chairman

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told a Senate committee July 22 that his agency should launch a new inquiry into how the FCC can best “protect children and empower parents” in the era of new digital media.

Addressing a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing re-examining the Children’s Television Act in the age of digital media, Genachowski also said he was inclined to affirm a tentative commission conclusion reached five years ago that broadcasters should be barred from offering interactivity that “connects kids to commercial material” during children’s programming, unless parents are given the ability to ‘opt-in.’”

While acknowledging that broadcasters could benefit economically — something that’s particularly important during the ongoing recession — protecting children from “inappropriate commercialization” continues to be a top agency priority in the era of DTV, according to the chairman.

The FCC will study the matter, however, before making a final decision, but the chairman said at this point, “I’m inclined to agree that the agency should make its tentative conclusion final and say that interactive ads directed at children are off-limits without an opt-in by parents.”

In his prepared comments, the chairman pointed out that the media landscape has changed significantly since passage of the Children’s Television Act in 1990. The growth of multichannel video programming, the proliferation of the Internet, the prevalence of video games and availability of mobile services have multiplied the worries of parents about what type of content their children can access.

“Today, parents worry not only about the TV in the den, but about the computer in the kitchen, the gaming console in the basement and the mobile phones in their kids’ pockets,” he said.

According to the chairman, the FCC’s inquiry will address the new concerns and opportunities raised by digital media and act as a resource lawmakers can use as they proceed.