FCC Opens Inquiry About Media Content-Control Technologies

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission Monday opened an inquiry into media content-control technologies, including for broadcasting, cable, satellite, the Internet, mobile devices.
The FCC asks a host of questions, including whether commercials should be rated and what fixes, if any, could be made to the V-chip/ratings system.
But the inquiry ranges far and wide, looking for info on whatever platforms are hosting video.
"The media environment that children encounter is becoming increasingly complex," said the FCC. "In the majority of homes with children, there are at least three television sets, some of which receive signals over the air and others that are linked to cable or satellite....In addition, many homes have DVD players, computers with Internet access, and a variety of mobile devices, such as iPods or other MP3 devices and wireless devices such as cell phones and smart phones, that are capable of playing both audio and video. Each of these media outlets has its own type of password and/or program blocking system, which poses a significant challenge for parents trying to direct or supervise their children's exposure to video and audio programming."
The FCC was required to open the inquiry by the Child Safe Viewing Act, which passed in the last Congress.
The bill specifically requires the FCC to collect data on the most advanced methods for blocking video content, including on wired and wireless platforms and across a variety of platforms including TVs, DVD players, VCRs, cable set-tops and wireless handsets. It wis then required to present that data in a report to Congress by Aug. 29
Among the topics the FCC wants input on:  the possible improvement to the V-chip and ratings system, citing a 2007 Kaiser Family Foundation study finding that most people don't understand them.
The inquiry dovetails with the interests of Julius Genachowski, President Obama's just-announced nominee for FCC chairman. He is a board member of Common Sense Media, which provides media content-management tools to parents and advocates parental responsibility and technological solutions as preferable to government content control.

In its notice of inquiry, the FCC cited TiVo's Kidzone, which allows parents to block programming based on recommended programming lists compiled by, among others, Common Sense Media.
"This notice of inquiry is a great opportunity to review the technology and information currently available for parents to protect their kids, and to explore ways that we can work together to improve the those tools," said Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer. "Parents want to keep their kids safe and smart in this 24/7 media world, and we should empower them with information that is clear, accessible, and works across all media platforms."

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.