T Dog’s Think Tank: Won’t someone please think of the children?

Helen LovejoyA major blunder took place Saturday involving a local TV station – and for once it wasn’t in Chicago. And it wasn’t even a network-owned one.

Nope, it took place at San Diego’s CBS affiliate, KFMB. The Midwest Television-owned station decided to pre-empt an hour of the third-round NCAA Tournament game between Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) at 9 a.m. (PT) Saturday morning, airing an hour of “cartoons”, basically E/I friendly shows, including Liberty’s Kids, a DIC-produced show which originally aired on PBS in 2002 (the late Walter Cronkite was one of the featured voices on the show.)

KFMB joined the game in progress at 10 a.m. PT, but the damage was done. Hoop fans were enraged and the station’s social media feeds exploded. Sports media websites such as Awful Announcing and even Radio Insight weighed in on the matter.

The decision was basically mishandled from the start. There was no announcement to viewers about the pre-emption… no TV listing, nothing. Just a terse tweet (since deleted) from KFMB officials, saying the decision to join the VCU-Michigan in progress was because of FCC-mandated educational programming. Sure, blame the government.

This is kind of strange given other CBS affiliates and CBS-owned stations around the country – even in the Pacific Time Zone – didn’t have the same problem. In Chicago, CBS-owned WBBM-TV scheduled 2 1/2 hours of E/I cartoons Saturday featuring Liberty Kids, and an hour each of Doodlebops and the Busytown Mysteries. The other half hour of Liberty Kids aired Sunday at 7:30 a.m. KFMB could’ve made a similar arrangement, similar to what CBS stations in other PT markets did (KFMB didn’t want to give up the hour of paid religious programming on Sunday morning. What about the children, indeed.)

In fact, KFMB was the only CBS affiliate out of 200-plus stations not to air the first hour of the VCU-Michigan game, according to a tweet from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

You could say the game was available to stream online, so what’s the problem? The problem is not everyone in San Diego – or Chicago for that matter – has Internet access, or even a device to stream. Viewers without Internet access who wanted to see the start of the VCU-Michigan game in San Diego were out of luck.

But then there’s the bigger issue in the E/I rule itself. It stands for educational/informational, which was created through the 1990 Children’s Television Act. The rule states broadcast stations must air a minimum of educational children’s fare three hours a week, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC toughened the rule in the last decade due to local stations claiming programs such as The Flintstones and Full House as educational.

It’s highly debatable whether or not the E/I rules are needed in an era where there are many more choices on where to watch content, and that includes kids fare. It’s easy to say the rules discriminate against broadcasters and not cable networks and the rules are pointless (like yours truly said on Twitter Saturday) and kids don’t watch these programs anyway. But then you think about what Chicago Public Schools did on Friday, announcing the closure of sixty schools.

Regardless, it was poor planning on the KFMB’s Saturday and using the FCC was a convenient scapegoat. While the E/I rule won’t be eliminated anytime soon, I guess its just easier to eliminate common sense when it comes to making scheduling decisions.


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