The Children's Television Act requires each U.S. broadcast television station to air programming specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children. It also limits the amount of time broadcasters and cable operators can devote to advertisements during children's programs.
TV stations are required to:
- Air at least three hours per week of core programs.
- Identify core programs by displaying the symbol E/I throughout the program.
- Provide parents and consumers with advance information about core programs and when they are being aired.
Core programming for children
Core programming is specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, including the child's intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs. In addition, core programming:
- Serves the educational and informational needs of children as a significant purpose.
- Is at least 30 minutes long.
- Is aired between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.
- Is a regularly scheduled weekly program.
For digital broadcasters that choose to multicast more than one stream of video programming, the minimum amount of core programming the station must air increases in proportion to the amount of free video programming offered by the broadcaster on multicast channels.
Commercial television stations must provide information identifying educational programs for children to publishers of program guides and TV listings.
Commercial time limitations
FCC rules limit the amount of commercial matter that can be aired in children's television programming for an audience of children 12 years old and younger to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. The FCC also requires this program material be separated from commercials by intervening and unrelated program material. The time limits do not apply to public television stations because these stations are generally prohibited from airing commercials.
Displaying web addresses during programs
The display of website addresses during programs directed to children ages 12 and under is permitted only if the website meets the following criteria:
- It offers a substantial amount of bona fide program-related or other non-commercial content.
- It is not primarily intended for commercial purposes.
- The website's home page and menu pages clearly distinguish non-commercial from commercial sections.
- The page of the website that viewers are directed to is not used for e-commerce, advertising or other commercial purposes.
Television broadcasters and cable operators may not display website addresses during or adjacent to a children's program if products are sold featuring a character in the program, or a program character is used to sell products. The website display prohibition does not apply to certain public service announcements, station identifications and emergency announcements.
Tracking compliance with FCC rules
Commercial TV stations are required to file with the FCC quarterly reports identifying the station's core programs and other efforts to comply with their educational programming obligations. These reports - Children's Television Programming Reports (FCC Form 398) – must be available to the public. The reports can be obtained from the station's online public inspection file at stations.fcc.gov or from the FCC's Children's Educational Television Reporting page. Also, commercial TV broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers must maintain records to verify compliance with commercial time limits and make these records available for public inspection.