Five Spot: Tim Winter, President, Parents Television Council
Veteran kids’ advocate turns his eye toward TV ratings, streamers
Parents Television Council president Tim Winter has been pushing for more accurate TV ratings and what the advocacy group sees as more family-friendly programming for almost two decades. He brought the experience of a TV veteran and concerned parent to a job he says he never envisioned himself in. He spoke with B+C Washington bureau chief John Eggerton.
How did you wind up heading this group? I grew up inside the Beltway, but D.C. wasn’t for me. After college I went as far as I could without getting wet: Los Angeles. I landed an entry-level finance job at NBC in January 1982 and worked at the network for 15 years, serving in financial roles for the studio and broadcast operations and for the entertainment division … I left NBC [in New York] in 1996 and returned to L.A. — Kris and I were newlyweds, but she was working at KNBC and I was at 30 Rock, and a three-time-zone separation isn’t the best way to start a family. I became the CFO for MGM’s digital division, where we published video games based on the James Bond franchise and other studio properties. Then I spent a few years in the dot-com world developing streaming video technologies before starting at PTC in 2003.
What prompted you to want to head up the PTC? During my 20-plus years in the industry, I never would have imagined myself working at PTC, let alone leading it. But when I became a father, I quickly learned how powerful the media could be at influencing a child’s worldview — oftentimes despite the best efforts of a parent.
What’s on your DVR? KTLA’s broadcast of the 2016 Rose Parade — my daughter was the Queen! Also the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. I’m a 40-year diehard L.A. Kings fan and kissed the Cup twice!
What destination tops your bucket list? Bandon Dunes, to play the new Sheep Ranch course. My new goal is to play as much golf as I’m accused of.
Books currently on your nightstand or tablet? Revolutionary Characters by Gordon S. Wood. It’s comforting that American political animus was just as fierce 230 years ago as it is today.
Favorite musical group? Tower of Power (50-plus years of answering the question ‘What is Hip?’).
Most memorable recent meal? My family ate at a Michelin-rated restaurant [La Toque] up in Napa, last month. Mediocre food, but memorable because it cost me three car payments.
Why do you think the TV ratings need to be overhauled? In recent years, I think our entire nation has learned that oversight of power needs to be accurate, transparent and publicly accountable. The same holds true for an industry-crafted system that parents are told they must rely upon to protect their children. Twenty-plus years of research (and last year’s FCC Report) demonstrate the need for improvement both to the ratings system and to its oversight. Every single night, explicit content airs on TV that networks rate as appropriate for children to watch. Oversight of the system is handed to the very same network employees who
rate the content (sometimes inaccurately). Is that really what ‘oversight’ looks like? I’m not suggesting that there is evil intent, but the reality is that the current system is built entirely upon an inherent conflict of interest.
PTC has taken aim at many Fox shows over the years, and during much of that time your wife was a top Fox TV-station executive. Did that cause any issues at home? During my time at PTC, Kris held senior management roles in local TV newsrooms at KNBC, KTLA and KTTV (their first-ever female news director!). She always disclosed to her employer what her husband did for a living, and she and I were always judicious not to share sensitive business information with each other. We’ve never had any problems at home, but her station management would occasionally press her for info about PTC intentions — especially on FCC-related issues like indecency and KidVid [children’s TV rules]. It was good that she could always answer honestly that she didn’t know. And the relationship has allowed me to speak with station and network folks directly and privately, resulting in many positive outcomes.
You have said PTC is shifting its focus to streaming, ‘given that children are primarily consuming their media online.’ Do you think COVID-19 has accelerated that shift? For parents, it has never been more challenging than today when it comes to being firmly in control of their kids’ media consumption. And with so many children distance-learning due to COVID-19-related classroom closures, their average daily screen time has spiked through the roof. If the PTC is to faithfully serve its mission, then we must be present and active with our research, education and advocacy programs wherever children are consuming their media. That means less focus on the legacy, linear platforms and more focus on digital platforms. λ
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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.
By Kent Gibbons