NBC Adopts Content Ratings

NBC has joined ranks with the rest of the networks on the TV-ratings system.

The network said last week that it will immediately begin including content descriptors in its TV ratings—”V” for violence, “S” for sexual content, “L” for vulgar language, “D” for suggestive dialogue and “FV” for fantasy violence—as the other networks do. It will also air the ratings icons coming out of each commercial break.

ABC already airs the ratings coming out of commercials, and Fox does coming out of the 15-minute break for half-hour shows and on the half-hour for hour-long programs, while CBS airs them at the top of the hour and the half-hour.

NBC said the changes will be “fully implemented” by the start of the new fall season.

NBC had been airing age-based classifications (“TV-G,” “TV-14,” for example), but it had refused to add the descriptors. The network was among the strongest critics of the adoption of the ratings system on First Amendment grounds.

Back when the system was instituted in 1997, NBC resisted pressure from the White House and Congress to adopt the descriptors. Arguing, in the words of one executive at the time, that they could be misleading and result in indiscriminate blocking and censorship, NBC said it would instead increase parental warnings when appropriate and monitor public opinion on the ratings system.

Of the turnabout, Alan Wurtzel, NBC president of broadcast standards, says changes in the times and technology were behind the move to add the descriptors.

“Eight years ago, when content descriptors were first implemented, we questioned if they would cause more confusion than they would help,” he says, “We're in an environment where the number of channels has grown exponentially. It's increasingly hard for viewers to know what's on all those channels. We want to give them more information, and our research shows that they are interested in choice and control, not in being passive.”

But self-regulation is a business decision as well as a public service, he says. Our advertisers pay a premium for a certain environment, he says, adding that there are more than 200 affiliates to think about.

NBC will also boost its public-service-announcement campaign for the ratings system, including airing PSAs in all dayparts.