Forget MTV: Music Television's halftime: It's the rest of the time that the Parents Television Council is worried about.
On the one-year anniversary of MTV's Janet Jackson Super Bowl Half-time shows, the group released an analysis of 171 hours of MTV programming over its Spring Break week March 20-27, and said it found that the cable service was delivering "8.9 un-bleeped profanities per hour, and an additional 18.3 bleeped profanities per hour," plus "nine sexual scenes per hour," with "18 sexual depictions and 17 instances of sexual dialog or innuendo" on top of that."
PTC compared that to its study of broadcast prime time programming, where it found an average 5.8 instances of sexual content at 10 o'clock, when indecency is protected on broadcast TV.
Because basic cable is a pay service, it is not under the same content restrictions as broadcast, but some legislators and activist groups have begun to argue that with the majority of homes now getting basic cable service, consumers do not draw a distinction between the two and the regulatory regime should be changed to reflect that.
That has not gotten much traction, however, given historical court protections for pay services.
The study found that MTV's reality shows had more sex than the music videos, and that the winner of most sexual segments was, not surprisingly, Spring Break Fantasies, at 32 per hour.
PTC called MTV profoundly influential on children, saying it was watched by 73% of boys and 78% of girls 12-19.
PTC was pitching the study as ammunition for requiring cable companies to give consumers more control over their cable lineups, including offering their channels a la carte.
From the Spring Break analysis, PTC concluded: “The incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice," according to PTC President Brent Bozell. "Given a choice, how many parents now being forced to take and pay for MTV as part of a basic cable package, would continue to do so?” asked Bozell.
It's unfortunate that Mr. Bozell attempted to inaccurately paint MTV with this brush of irresponsibility," said MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas. "The report also underestimates young people's intellect and their level of sophistication. We take our responsibility to our viewers seriously and take great pride in our connection with the audience because we respect them."
As to its programming standards, she said: "We follow the same industrywide standards that broadcast nets follow. We don't have any obscenities on our air. We may even have stricter language standards than many radio stations do.
"It's interesting that [PTC] is choosing to ignore things MTV has been recognized for, like "Fight For Your Rights" [a campaign that looks at issues including discrimination and sexual health], which won a Peabody award, and "Choose or Lose" [a get-out-the-vote campaign] that won an Emmy"
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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.