The Federal Communications Commission received close to 10,000 public comments on a report it must submit to Congress on media content-control technologies like the V-chip/ratings system and cable operators' parental-control features.
It turns out a lot of those comments, and likely the vast majority, were requests for technology that would filter out inappropriate language.
According to TV Guardian president Britt Bennett, more than 95% of the comments referred to his product, TV Guardian, which can filter out and even find substitutes for curse words in TV content. Multichannel News could not independently verify that fact, but the majority of dozens of randomly selected comments suggested that may not be far off the mark if references to generic language filtering are included.
Some variant on this theme was typical: “Please promote foul language filtering technology availability. This would aid parents in raising their children and help business seeking to market their services and products.”
Bennett said he did not solicit them, but “we have some family groups that like us.” In the wake of Janet Jackson's halftime wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl in 2004, a flood of FCC comments was mostly a deluge from Parents Television Council members.
A representative of PTC said it had not asked its members to weigh in on TVGuardian. But American Family Association's OneMillionMoms.com did send out an e-mail alert asking members to file comments and including a link to the docket and advice on what to say.
“[TV Guardian] is being offered to cable and satellite companies for free — those that want to use it can pay a small fee for it — and these companies have the ability to download the software into most existing cable/satellite boxes … still, the industry refuses to give families this individual control,” the e-mail said.
Bennett said he has a deal with one of the two telco TV providers (Verizon Communications and AT&T) to put the software in set-tops, but would not say which company. He also said no cable operator has agreed to use TVGuardian, though he has been banging on doors for eight years. While he says he would rather work directly with distributors, Bennett said it could be time for Washington to step in.
A representative of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association deferred to operators on the question of cable's lack of interest, saying the association does not have a role in the individual services MSOs choose to offer their customers.
“We have extensive parental controls already available,” Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said when asked why Comcast, the nation's top cable operator, does not employ TVGuardian.
The NCTA said in its comments on the same report that cable had been in the forefront of parental controls (see story, this page), but Bennett begs to differ. “They haven't advanced anything since the V-chip,” he says, “which was about 10 or 12 years ago. That basically says you can block entire programs but there is nothing that allows you to filter the language out of a program.”
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.
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