COVID-19 gives the FCC a platform to leverage educational programming

Months before COVID-19, the FCC voted to loosen broadcasters’ obligations to carry core “educational and informative” content across their networks. The National Association of Broadcasters thanked the FCC profusely, touting that obligations to carry “low-rated children’s programming” would have serious economic consequences when stations were already dealing with shrinking profits.

Little did they realize that in just a matter of months, schools across the country would morph into remote learning modalities, placing television and public airwaves in the role of providing educational content for many American families.

FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks practically prophesized the grave risks of relaxing FCC children’s programming rules when they issued their dissenting statements back in July of 2019. Both commissioners championed the value of quality educational programming in a rapidly changing media landscape, where the digital divide was becoming more pervasive every day. Starks even went so far as to say that the FCC actually “has clear statutory authority to require broadcasters to limit commercialization on children’s television and ensure that programming is specifically made to serve children’s age-appropriate educational needs.”

It was only eight months later that COVID-19 pulled back the curtain even further, and public television shows stepped in to take action. Elmo began hosting virtual playdates, and Daniel Tiger produced a new COVID-19 special helping kids and families understand feelings of uncertainty and how to get through these disappointing times. Public media partnered with school districts across the nation, and for the first time in history, research-based, educational content was simulcast across multiple networks—public and private—including replays and streaming. Kids and families had equal access to relevant programming on multiple platforms, wherever they were, whenever they could watch, and without corporate concern for advertising dollars or ratings.

As a content creator and advocate for children’s and family programming, I