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Good News: FCC Remains Tough On Content... But Will It Matter?

 

Julius Genachowski is about to take hold of the ultimate remote control in the country as he readies to take The Chair at the FCC in the near future. Even better, he knows where the mute button is and he’s not afraid to use it. Both Genachowski (a Democrat) and Republican nominee Robert McDowell support the enforcement of broadcast decency laws, which is obviously good news for parents who are tired of having their remote controls holstered at their hip like a six-shooter when they watch TV with their kids. Now we just have to hope there is a broadcaster left on the “public” airwaves before the end of their five-year term.

 

The broadcast industry is about to hit a technological wall like it’s never seen before. This past week, The Diffusion Group, a market research firm, predicted in 18 months 100 million households in the world will have televisions connected to the Internet – many of them through video game consoles. Just as recently, the CBS-owned TV.com signed a deal with TiVo that will allow users to record CBS programming with a click of their TiVo remotes.

 

There’s yet another match about to light a fuse leading to the broadcast demise powder keg. This is the time of year when broadcasters trot out their best products that will headline the fall TV season with the hopes of luring advertisers to snap up commercial airtime while they can. Called “Upfronts,” networks often sell about 80% of the advertising you will see in the fall, giving them a nice feeling of security while productions are finished over the summer season.

 

This year there was not just an apathetic yawn coming from potential sponsors, but a downright attitude of “Are you joking?” when networks informed their potential clients of advertising rate increases. The advertisers balked and instead said they expected a 15% rate decrease. Late last Thursday night (June 18) things were finally beginning to move, but no one is willing to bet just how much the overall business will decline from last year.

 

If broadcast advertising revenues continue to fall, we may see the day when scripted television programs will be replaced with a slate of reality shows, news programs, and YouTube-like viewer created content. Meanwhile, programs requiring more money to produce will become the staple for premium cable networks and pay-per-view channels.

 

Yes, this is the Parents Television Council and not Business Week, but there is good reason for you to know the corporate broadcast climate forecast is for rough weather ahead – so rough that it may metaphorically blow your TV antenna off your roof in the not so distant future. If the day were to ever come when the majority of television entertainment is delivered over the Internet, it would make today’s regulatory muscle flexing useless. Genachowski, like President Obama, is a huge proponent of an open and free Internet. In short, it would be logical to conclude media that isn’t delivered over public airwaves is much less likely to face government regulatory action, especially in the areas of decency issues. And that means that parents will be left with a major weapon missing from their artillery.

 

President Obama has continued to commit to his technology plan which does offer a promise to “...give parents the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment.” However, after seeing the dismal implementation of the V-chip – the last tool that was ushered in as a way for parents to be able to keep a leash on the television – we all have reason to be very skeptical. For any technological tool to be reasonably effective, it would need to use information provided by media creators. Networks have refused to accurately flag their programs for the V-ship. Can we expect the situation to improve within the wild domain of the unregulated Internet?

 

I still believe networks can make this transition in a way that will keep the dollars rolling in, but they must begin producing programming with a wide audience appeal. Standouts like American Idol prove there is still money to be made in good ‘ol broadcast television, but they must rid their schedules of the many programs that appeal to niche audiences and turn off the lucrative and relatively large family demographic. They also need to regain the trust of parents and families by working with electronics manufacturers to create a bulletproof content control system that works for families and allows parents to set controls according to their family’s needs.

 

In the end, we should have an exciting new form of television that will provide a wide range of information and entertainment choices in ways we can only begin to imagine. But, just like the early days of TV, broadcasters still need to remember parents (and all viewers) have the ultimate power: The off button.

 

Rod Gustafson

 


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.


Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org


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