2019 in Review: How TV Has Changed for Better, and Worse, for Families

Written by PTC | Published December 24, 2019

In 2019, we’ve witnessed a near-total transformation of the TV industry as we knew it.Digital technology has dramatically changed how families access entertainment. More children and teens use smartphones and other handheld devices to instantly “stream” programs from the Internet, often without parental supervision. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Apple TV have greater leeway to air explicit material because they are not subject to the Federal Communications Commission indecency regulations, nor are they subject to pressure from corporate advertisers. These services have upended the TV industry, and they provide immediate access to the most vile content that Hollywood markets to younger viewers.Even our research reports that we produced in 2019 have revealed some shocking findings:

  • In over a decade of primetime broadcast TV shows, we found that there is substantially more profanity and violence in youth-rated shows now than ten years ago, but that increase has not changed the age-based content ratings the networks apply.
  • In a new seven-year analysis of comic book-themed broadcast TV shows with appeal to children, we found that young viewers were exposed to over 6,000 incidents of violence, over 500 deaths, and almost 2,000 profanities, among other adult content. This report revealed a big disconnect: TV shows have more graphic violence and harmful content than their comic book counterparts on the big screen. Given that Hollywood markets comic book characters to kids from birth, that presents big problems for families.

But thankfully, it’s not all bad news.

  • In 2019, Federal Communications Commission publicly confirmed what we have been saying, and what our research has proven, for years: that the TV Content Ratings System is not adequately serving the needs of parents and families and recommended that Congress step up to change the system.
  • Disney+ launched, providing families with a nearly-safe streaming platform – though we are advocating for better parental controls and filtering solutions to make it even safer. (Yes, Disney, there are families who don’t want their kids to have access to PG-13 or TV-14-rated content.)
  • On the streaming front, we also awarded our Seal of Approval to UP Faith and Family, a commercial-free streaming service for families with content that is safe for families to watch together.
  • After we applied direct public pressure to the board of directors of Netflix for standing behind a television program that was directly linked to an increase in teen suicide, Netflix reluctantly removed the graphic suicide scene from the teen-targeted show, 13 Reasons Why.
  • After the PTC reached out to corporate sponsors warning them about the explicit and adult content found on ABC’s Videos After Dark and NBC’s I Feel Bad, both programs were not renewed for a second season.
  • PTC President Tim Winter and Family Guy Creator Seth MacFarlane told their “odd couple” story to the Los Angeles Times a story about how these two developed a friendship despite years of public acrimony.

In 2020, the PTC will focus on holding entertainment giants accountable for marketing explicit content to children and teens – a more pervasive, and growing trend with programs like HBO’s Euphoria, Hulu’s PEN15, Netflix’s Sex Education, Big Mouth, and others. We must not allow this grossly irresponsible programming to become the new, acceptable standard for entertainment in the 21st century.We will produce and distribute powerful new research to educate parents about harmful content targeted at their children via social media and streaming platforms. And we will secure our long-fought victory for an accurate, transparent and robust content ratings system that serves the needs of parents and families on all media platforms.Hollywood-friendly media outlets celebrate such explicit content, and they overtly dismiss the harmful impact such material has on children’s minds and lives. We have to protect our children, and we will continue to advocate for a safe and sound media environment in 2020 and beyond.

Take Action. Stay Informed.