ABC to Tape-Delay Super Bowl

The Janet Jackson ripple effect (or should that be "rip" effect) has finally come around to the game that started it all. Sunday's Super Bowl will be on a five-second tape delay pregame, post-game, game, and halftime.

ABC has had the same five-second delay on its Monday Night Football broadcasts, but this will be a first for the big game.

According to National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy, the decision to delay the Super Bowl was entirely up to ABC, which delays other live entertainment programming.

Fox did not delay its broadcast of the game last year, however, telling CBS News at the time that it was treating the broadcast as a news event. The half-time performer was Paul McCartney.

CBS probably wishes it had delayed the game the year before that, however, when the Jackson reveal at halftime of the 2004 contest helped prompt the ensuing wide-scale tape delays of "live" programming (with an assist from the FCC's decision that Bono's f-word on the live Golden Globes awards telecast was indecent).

The delay gives monitors a chance to bleep audio or snip video that might offend viewers or legislators.

The Super Bowl halftime show this year features another British rocker, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who have already run afoul of the ABC football content controllers.

Jagger got bleeped for language by ABC on two occasions when the Stones performed at the kick-off of the NFL season back in September, but Mick and Mickey have been tight this year, with Monday Night Football working Stones songs into NFL broadcasts and promos.

According to a radio news report of an interview with Jagger, when asked about the halftime content, he joked that ABC was worried about how many times he would say the f-word ("One!" chimed in a voice that sounded like a band mate). He also added that the network was worried about Aretha Franklin "stripping during the Star Spangled Banner."

Elsewhere on the indecency bowl front, the Christian Coalition is marking the second anniversary of the Janet Jackson reveal by loudly complaining that no bill boosting indecency fines or tightening FCC enforcement has yet to pass.

Given ABC's delay, at least the coalition isn't likely to see a repeat performance.

Coalition President Roberta Combs opined in a statement that her congressional advice had not been followed.

"It has now been two years since the outrageous Janet Jackson incident during the Super Bowl half-time show," she said. "It is unbelievable that exactly 2 years ago today I made a statement saying, ‘Congress needs to move aggressively to pass legislation which will finally and severely sanction those individuals in broadcasting companies and stations which violate decency standards. The American people demand it.’ And yet the United States Senate has still stalled a vote on a commonsense bill giving tools to the Federal Communications Commission to take the offensive against such gross violations of decency standards.”

A bill by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which boosts the fines from a maximum $32,500 per violation to $500,000 passed easily in the House, but a similar bill in the "cooling saucer" of the Senate--authored by Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas--has not gotten traction.

That is in part because the bipartisan backing of the bill has slipped a bit as liberals saw the threat of censorship of edgy content. Even some conservatives in the general populous cooled, realizing that a different political majority might threaten speech they favored.

But the lack of a baseline bill does not mean a lack of interest or attention. On the contrary, the indecency issue has since expanded to include such ancillary issues as cable indecency and the related topics of tiering and a la carte, with four indecency bills currently before the Senate Commerce Committee.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.