NBC, Cable Industry Begin Parental Control Campaign

As battles and regulatory fines have raged ever greater over the issue of indecent content on television for the last few years, and as Congress and the Federal Communications Commission consider whether to introduce new strictures on what can be said and shown, NBC and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association are taking matters into their own hands.

On Thursday, NBC introduced content ratings and additional steps to educate parents and viewers about how to use the V-chip technology. On Wednesday, NBC Universal's entertainment channels--USA Network, Sci Fi, Bravo, and mun2--participated in the cable initiative headed by the NCTA to enhance the content information available to viewers.

"By enhancing the visibility of content ratings, and raising awareness of the V-chip, we believe parents have the tools they need to make informed decisions," said Bob Wright, Chairman and CEO, NBC Universal.

Last year, complaints to the FCC about Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" resulted in a big fine for CBS. Then, Fox was hauled before the FCC after charges that merely pixilating nudity during its reality series "Married by America" was not good enough when it came to protecting young viewers.

And while cable may have thought it was off the hook, earlier this year Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) vowed to craft legislation that would hold cable and satellite to the same standards of decency as broadcast.

NBCU's plan calls for:

- The industry-standard "Parental Ratings" icon will appear at the start of every entertainment program and following each commercial break.

- The Ratings will include both age-based classifications [i.e., TV-G TV-14], as well as content descriptors including (V) for violence, (S) for sexual content, (L) for vulgar language, (D) for suggestive dialogue, and (FV) for fantasy violence. These modifications will be phased in as soon as possible, and will be fully implemented by the fall television season.

- NBCU will produce an on-air public service campaign providing information to parents and other viewers on the ratings system.

- To reach 75% of all households with children ages 6-14 [target audience for the ratings/V-chip] the V-chip "The More You Know" PSA's will appear in all day parts, including prime time.

NCTA is sponsoring a similar campaign, featuring a $250 million public service campaign designed to reach most of the 70 million U.S. cable subscribers, telling parents how to use the V-Chip, and asking them to monitor their children's viewing habits.

"In a better world, this is all we'd need to do to stave off regulatory action on indecency charges, but given the current climate, this is only a first step by the industry," said one cable ad sales executive.

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