March 15, 2007
A little over one year ago, the Senate Commerce
Committee held hearings which dealt with the issue of
obscene and indecent material on broadcast and
advertiser-supported basic cable television.
Following on the heels of the now-infamous Super Bowl
halftime show, and coupled with profanity-laced awards
shows, a teen orgy on primetime broadcast network
television, and multi-million dollar FCC consent
decrees, the industry knew it had to do something and it
had to do it fast. So they enlisted the assistance of
the single most powerful, well-known, highly-respected
power-broker, Jack Valenti, to come up with a solution
which would get the government off its back. This
"solution," and I use the term loosely, was a $300
million campaign to educate parents and promote the
so-called technical solutions to obscene and indecent
material that was being delivered into every home in the
country on a daily and nightly basis. The industry
called its campaign the TV Boss.
I would like to frame this around one central question:
What was the goal of the TV Boss campaign? Again, what
was its goal? If the goal was to increase awareness and
usage of the v-chip, then the campaign has failed, and
someone, somewhere, deserves a $550 million refund. If
the goal was not to increase awareness and usage of the
v-chip, then what was the goal? The only other goal I
can discern is that the TV Boss campaign was designed
solely to placate the Congress and to deflect any
further attention to the growing tide of graphic sex,
violence and profanity during the hours when children
are watching television.
Based on polling data we received from Zogby, the only
possible goal of TV Boss was to placate the Congress; to
make sure a modest investment – hardly any of which was
likely an out-of-pocket cost – would ensure a swift
return to "business as usual" accompanied by a continued
and complete disregard for the broadcast indecency laws.
At the outset of the TV Boss campaign, the PTC
commissioned Zogby International to include a few
questions in one of their regular national omnibus
surveys. We asked three questions about TV content. And
unlike other industry-funded polls which were clearly
designed to illicit only a desired result, we asked our
questions as clearly and objectively as we could, and we
provide the specific questions for you in order to offer
Let me tell you briefly what the results showed us. And
may I say, the results surprised even us.
Six months ago – in September – at the outset of the TV
Boss campaign, Americans were asked if they agreed or
disagreed that there is too much sex, violence and
course language on television. Eighty percent (80%)
agreed. We asked the very same question just a few days
ago, and 79% agreed. The needle has barely moved.
The second question we asked was about the v-chip and
cable box parental controls. We asked Americans how many
times they had used those blocking devices in the past
week. In September, 87% said they had not used them at
all. This month 88% said they had not used them at all.
Not only did the percentage of technology users go down,
but those who used the blocking devices frequently went
down by an even greater margin.
The third question asked Americans to identify what the
TV ratings "descriptors" were. The descriptors are the
letters D, L, S, and V, that appear next to the posted
TV rating. Please understand that this was a
multiple-choice question, with only four (4) potential
answers, only one of which was correct. And to employ
the old adage about 100 trained monkeys, 25% should have
answered correctly even if they were just guessing. Last
September only seven percent (7%) could correctly answer
the question, meaning that 93% could not. And this month
only 8% could answer correctly, meaning 92% could not.
In April of 2005, nearly two years ago, the industry
proudly announced that it would spend $250 million to
promote the v-chip and channel blocking technologies.
And nearly two years ago the PTC called the campaign "an
industry sham" that had the sole purpose of shirking
responsibility for its product.
In April of 2006, nearly one year ago, the industry
announced it would launch another v-chip and blocking
technology campaign, this time investing $300 million.
And nearly one year ago the PTC called the campaign
"useless." We called it a PR stunt which was intended
only to dodge responsibility for their product.
And here we are again today, six months after the TV
Boss campaign began. Mr. Valenti promised the Congress a
progress report in March. Obviously we will be
interested to see what the industry spin-meisters can do
to put lipstick on this pig. But in the meantime, we
offer this Zogby data to the Congress, to the FCC, to
the industry and, most importantly, to the public.
And again, what was the industry's goal when it decided
to spend $300 million on the TV Boss? Did anyone truly
believe that the industry would make such an investment
to actually encourage its viewers not to watch its
programs? If you answered ‘yes' then I've got a bridge
in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.
The two-pronged solution is simple. First, if
broadcasters want to use the public airwaves – public
property – to deliver their product to every home in the
country for free, then they must abide by the indecency
law as prescribed by Congress, affirmed by the Supreme
Court and enforced by the FCC. And second, give parents
and families the ultimate in parental control and let
them select and pay for only the cable networks they
want coming into their homes.
Parents don't need any more lectures from the industry.
Rather, the industry needs to clean up its act.
Consumers and Congress should not be fooled when the fox
once again asks us to trust it to guard the henhouse.