PTC: TV Ratings Fail to Reflect 'Content Creep'

The Parents Television Council said the TV ratings system has failed to keep up with "content creep" that is not reflected in the age-based ratings system. 

That is according to a new report, "A Decade of Deceit: How TV Content Ratings Have Failed Families" from the Parents Television Council. 

The FCC conceded in a report to Congress last summer that the age-based ratings system needs work, pointing out that it is two decades old. 

PTC president Tim Winter, in a press conference on the report, said PTC was calling for Congress to step in, saying self-governance was instead self-service. PTC wants a hearing or symposium including doctors, health experts and others to review all the ratings categories. He also wants video streamers to have similar ratings. He also wants the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB), the industry-headed group overseeing the ratings, disbanded. 

According to the report, looking at content and ratings over the past decade, "on shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period," it said. "There was also a more than twice as much violence on shows rated TV-14 in the 2017-18 television season than in the 2007-08 season, both in per-episode averages and in absolute terms." Winter, apologizing for the language, pointed out that "suck, blow, screw, hell,dick" and more were all used in shows that were rated PG, the same rating on Disney movies. 

Related: FCC Can't Say if TV Content Ratings Are Accurate

PTC said that since it has been over 150 days since the FCC reported to Congress, it is time for the FCC and the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board to get off the stick and make the ratings reflect the reality particularly since "neither the TVOMB nor the television networks made any changes to the content ratings system as a whole to reflect the vast increases in child- and family-unfriendly content on television," PTC said.

The report is based on what PTC says was its analysis of "every instance of violence, sexual dialogue, sexual actions, and foul language, and the content ratings assigned to each episode" during the 2017-2018 season's November sweep on prime time broadcast network TV, compared to the same survey in the 2007-2008 season.  

Winter said current TVOMB board chairman Michael Powell (president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association), has advised him it is considering the feedback it has gotten on the ratings, but Winter opines that there has been no action. He added that, left to its own devices, the industry will do nothing. 


Nell Minow, who rates content on her web site, agreed something needs to be done. She pointed out that her father, former FCC Chairman Newton Minow, had described TV as a vast wasteland, in explaining why content was an important issue and ran in the famnly, as it were. She said the issue is not censorship, but avoiding "bad surprises." One of her big issues is that TV shows produced for later at night are then syndicated in the dinner hour "with jokes about bikini waxes." She said she did not want censorhip, but for parents to have the tools they need. "You cant be the pitcher and the umpire in the same game," she said, of the industry rating itself. "The ratings are done by insiders, for insiders." 

Winter said to look for PTC to be increasingly focus on streaming content given the move of video to that platform. 

Asked if he thought anything could actually be done on the Hill, Winter said he had presented the reports preliminary findings to both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill and that all had said the status quo was not acceptable.

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.