Viacom Battles FCC Children's Ad Rules

A year after a unanimous Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted in new regulations for ads on children’s TV programs, major broadcast and kids’ networks are fighting the decision and are hoping to at least delay rules set to take effect Jan. 1, 2006.

The Big Three broadcast networks say the rules will reduce advertising, crimp revenue and possibly threaten the financial underpinnings of children’s programs, while forcing expensive rede-signs of Web sites aimed at youth audiences. Children’s advocates say the rules are already overdue and will help protect children from excessive marketing.

Networks also say the rules are overly restrictive and confusing. “What we are doing is seeking clarity,” said Marva Smalls, executive vp, public affairs for Nickelodeon, a Viacom service that joined in appeals to the FCC. The dispute escalated on Oct. 3, when Viacom asked the federal Court of Appeals in Washington to throw out the rules. The move came a week after children’s advocates filed their own suit seeking more sweeping restrictions than the FCC had proposed.

In their joint filing to the FCC on Sept. 26, Disney, Viacom and NBC said the rules could force “far-reaching, burdensome and expensive changes” to Web sites belonging to broadcasters and to cable operators, which also fall under the rules. “The companies might be required to eliminate any reference, anywhere on their Web sites, to a product or service related to on-air characters, such as SpongeBob SquarePants or Mickey Mouse,” the companies said.

Nickelodeon may be forced “to jettison or revamp its entire online strategy,” Herb Scannell, Nickelodeon president and vice chairman of MTV Networks, said in a filing. “The Web sites reinforce the viewer loyalty that sustains ratings, which in turn draws advertisers and produces revenue.”