Trade Groups Say TV Content Ratings Work as Intended

Broadcast, cable and programming trade groups continue to present a united front when it comes to the TV content ratings system, which is that it is working as intended--which means giving viewers more info not affecting what gets on the air--and does not need overhauling.

In the appropriations bill ending the government shutdown, there was a requirement that the FCC study the effectiveness of TV content ratings and the industry oversight board, with a directive to report back by mid-May.

Among the questions the FCC wanted answered: "Are programs with violent, sexual, or other content that may be inappropriate for children being rated accurately? Are both the age and content-based ratings being correctly applied? Are the ratings being applied consistently, or is programming with similar content being rated differently? Is there a type of program content (e.g., violence or sexual content) that is particularly subject to being rated inaccurately or inconsistently?"

Related: Religious Broadcasters Have TV Ratings Issues

In a meeting with FCC Media Bureau staffers, representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters, NCTA-the Internet & Television Association and the Motion Picture Association of America, emphasized the following points:

1. Parents and others find the ratings "helpful, reliable and responsive." That conclusion, they said, was based on small number of complaints compared to how many shows get rated.

2. Ratings are subjective and disagreements are inevitable.

3. Ratings are voluntary and should not be used as a way "to determine what content appears on television," but instead to help parents choose between a range of options.

They also talked about the monitoring board that oversees the ratings, including times when it had changed a rating based on complaints.

Finally, they pointed to the "vast array" of content available to children via a range of devices.

By contrast, looking at the TV ratings system almost 20 years in, the Parents Television Council does not rate it highly, saying there are virtually no shows rated as suitable for the whole family in primetime, that shows are being mis-rated and that networks rating their own shows has always been problematic and an inherent conflict of interest. It wants the FCC to throw out the old system and start over

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.