PTC Wants Powell to Help Change TV Ratings

The Parents Television Council wants National Cable & Telecommunications Chairman Michael Powell to help reform the TV ratings system.

In a letter to Powell in his capacity both as NCTA chief and, according to PTC, as head of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which is intended to ensure consistency of application of the voluntary ratings system.

PTC pointed to research it released in January suggesting the ratings were not "accurate, consistent, transparent or publicly accountable."

Although it did concede that the last time PTC "communicated directly about an issue related to a program rating," the rating for Walking Dead was changed from a TV-14 (parents strongly cautioned) to TV-MA (mature audience only). "[C]learly this was [an] instance where the system worked and the public was notified," said PTC President Tim Winter.

But Winter suggested that was the exception rather than the rule, who argues that it is a self-regulating, thus a self-serving process.

PTC wants the board to identify its members publicly; promote the board to the public and allow for more "streamlined communications"; make board deliberations public; disclose the board's relationship, if any, to network standards and practices departments; disclose what information the FCC gets as part of the commission's oversight rule; and disclose how the board informs viewers of a ratings change.

Winter sounded hopeful he could find common ground with Powell on reforming the parental guidelines system.

An NCTA spokesman confirms Powell is currently the head of the monitoring board but says that its decisions are made by consensus and not individual mandates. Powell has gotten the letter and is asking the board to respond.

“The TV Parental Guidelines ratings system serves as a valuable resource for parents and helps them make responsible viewing decisions based on what is appropriate for their own families," said board spokeswoman Missi Tessier. "The industry regularly reviews the TV ratings to ensure they continue to be useful to parents and we will continue to refine them based on constructive feedback from parents and others."

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.