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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cashing Out Children's Television

  • Author(s): Lichtman, Doug
  • et al.
Abstract

Under current rules, a television broadcaster is presumed to satisfy its obligation to air educational programming as long as it offers an average of three hours of self-described “educational” content each week.  I propose replacing this toothless presumption with one under which a broadcaster would be deemed to satisfy the obligation only if the broadcaster donates, in cash, to a qualifying educational nonprofit, the aggregate economic value of three weekly hours of television airtime.  The idea is to address an inconsistency that has undermined the traditional approach since its inception: the rules require broadcasters to air educational television because market forces would not otherwise create an adequate incentive for them to do so, but the same rules then rely on market forces to discipline broadcasters as they determine which programs are sufficiently “educational” in substance.  My proposal, by contrast, would strip unmotivated broadcasters of creative control, cash them out, and move the money instead to motivated nonprofits.  The burden placed on broadcasters would be the same as it is today; either way, the real cost to broadcasters is the lost opportunity to earn revenue on three hours of more profitable programming.  But the value created would be substantially more.  Broadcasters, in short, would no longer be told to provide educational television; they would simply be told to pay for it.

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