FCC Can't Say if TV Content Ratings Are Accurate

The industry board overseeing the TV content ratings system has not been sufficiently accessible or transparent, but there is not enough evidence to conclude the ratings are inaccurate because the FCC did not have enough time to make that determination and meet its congressional deadline (It had 90 days to meet that deadline).

Related: Trade Groups Say TV Ratings Work As Intended

Those were the FCC's primary takeaways from a three-month, congressionally mandated, inquiry by the FCC's Media Bureau  into the system. The report was due to Congress this week and was posted on the FCC Web site.  

The FCC did note that virtually all the commenters were dissatisfied with "some aspect of the TV Parental Guidelines, the oversight of the television ratings, and/or the content of television programming," while the industry asserts that the system is effective, with "meaningful oversight."

Congress had asked the FCC to address "the accuracy of the television content rating system, known as the TV Parental Guidelines, and the ability of the governing body for TV ratings, the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (Board or TVOMB), to oversee the rating system and address public concerns about it."

As to accuracy, the FCC said it was "unable to draw any definitive conclusions in the limited time we have been given to prepare this report," so suggested--it did not "urge"--the board undertake random audits or spot checks. 

Related: Content Ratings Are Hot Topic at FCC

The report did not signal the FCC would take any more time independently to determine if the ratings are accurate. The FCC has not always been punctual in meeting such congressional report deadlines, but was in this case.  

As to transparency, the FCC urged the board to hold at least one public meeting a year, better promote the existence of the board, and find a way to let the public know about the number and nature of the complaints it receives.  

The report noted that the board did not even have a working phone for potential complainers, but that that had been fixed.  

The FCC in February sought comment on the TV ratings system, as Congress told it it had to do in the omnibus appropriations legislation that was enacted Feb. 15 to avert a second government shutdown.

“We applaud the FCC for affirming the numerous, intrinsic failings of the TV content ratings system that we’ve been proclaiming for years," said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter. "We wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations put forth by the Commission to improve the ratings system and its oversight, but those improvements must not, cannot, simply be abdicated back to the very industry that has ensured the system’s failings thus far." 

PTC called for the ratings review and has long argued they are inaccurate and don't give parents' sufficient help in navigating away from increasingly dicey TV fare. 

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.