Town Hall on Parental Controls for Streaming Media Platforms Comments by Tim Winter, President, Parents Television and Media Council June 8, 2021

Written by PTC | Published June 9, 2021

Good Day to everyone from Beautiful Downtown Burbank, California. My name is Tim Winter and I am president of the Parents Television and Media Council, a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization whose mission is to protect children from the graphic sex, violence and profanity that is so pervasive in today’s entertainment media.

Hopefully you all noticed our new corporate moniker right there – the Parents Television and MEDIA Council. The PTC formally changed its name a couple months ago to recognize that our mission has also changed. Beyond just television, we must be a trusted resource, and a trusted voice, for parents, wherever their children are consuming their entertainment programming.

I don’t need to tell any of you what a seismic shift the media marketplace has endured in recent years – a shift that has been a long time coming, and that was solidified over the past 15 months during the COVID epidemic.

During the early months of the coronavirus lockdown, children were placed in front of computer monitors at home instead of in classrooms in front of teachers. Screen time literally doubled compared with the same period the year before. The global pandemic spawned a screen-time epidemic.

According to The Trade Desk, by early 2021, streaming consumption accounted for 68% of TV viewing, versus 28% for traditional TV viewing. In the early 2000s, 7 in 10 households subscribed to cable TV; today, fewer than 5 in 10 subscribe – and that number is likely to continue shrinking.

Our vision for this Town Hall meeting today stems from the recent release our research report on streaming media called Dollars and Sense: A Parents’ Guide to Streaming Media. This was the first research report produced by the PTC since we added the word Media to our name.

We’ll dive down into the study’s findings in a moment, but in brief, we found that the parental controls are wildly inconsistent, often opaque, and woefully inadequate to protect children from explicit, age-inappropriate content on streaming media.

For many years we have been fiercely critical of the entertainment industry for marketing explicit content to children; for rejecting any obligation on its part to protect children; for refuting the potential harm their programming might cause to children; and for its vise-like grip on the various content ratings systems that are intended to protect children, but in reality only protect their own financial interests.

So our goal for this meeting has been to bring together – to provide a public forum for the sharing of information on this topic – executive leadership from the eight streaming media distribution platforms that were specifically evaluated in our research report:

  1. Amazon Prime Video
  2. Apple TV+
  3. Disney+
  4. HBO Max
  5. Hulu
  6. Netflix
  7. Viacom’s Paramount+
  8. and NBC/Universal’s Peacock

Our hope was that together, we would discuss our report’s findings; identify and discuss effective gating measures to protect children; and commit to the adoption of an “industry best practices” for parental controls on streaming media platforms.

I will now turn it over to Melissa Henson, the PTC’s Program Director, to discuss the report’s key findings.

[Key Findings]

Thank you Melissa

Unfortunately our vision for today’s Town Hall won’t be realized. Of the eight companies we invited to participate here today, a grand total of zero accepted our invitation, though to their credit, Apple+ and Netflix kept the door open to possible participation in future discussions.

Their absence today demonstrates their real engagement in this issue. The only reason they have any parental controls at all, is so they can say they are doing something, but if they were really engaged on this issue, if they really wanted to engage for positive change in behalf of America’s children, they’d be here today.

Their failure to show up pretty much proves what we’ve been saying about their motivations. When was the last time a media company declined an opportunity to speak publicly on an issue about which it proclaims great concern? If they were doing something worth talking about, they’d be here talking about it – especially when families are spending more time streaming than any other moment in history.

So where do we go from here? Families urgently need basic protections from the increasingly explicit programming that is so pervasive on today’s streaming media platforms; and they need the confidence and ease of functionality to use those protections, especially given how much families are increasingly relying on streaming.

But we must also not fool ourselves; for these are the very same media conglomerates that have stonewalled efforts to reform a faulty content ratings system, blocked content filtering technologies, and filed legal challenges against FCC indecency enforcement.

The Parents Television and Media Council is calling today for three specific things to happen:

First, we call on those who didn’t have the spinal cord to join us today to at least get together in a different public venue, and to produce an Industry Best Practices guideline which all streaming platforms would commit to adopting. The Best Practices guidelines should specifically include, though not be limited to:

  1. Reliable gating/blocking technology measures
  2. An accurate, consistent and transparent age-based ratings system

Second, we are calling on the Congress to update the Family Movie Act of 2005 and specifically extend legal protections to companies that bring content filtering technologies to the streaming media marketplace.

Lastly, we are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to revisit and deliver on the promises Congress made to families when it passed the Child Safe Viewing Act -- the one piece of legislation that specifically governs what we’re talking about today. This legislation passed the House unanimously; it passed the Senate unanimously; and it was the last legislation that President Bush 43 signed into law. The Act called on the FCC to report back to the Congress on parental controls and blocking/filtering solutions.

When the FCC issued its one and only report about the Child Safe Viewing Act in August of 2009, then-Chairman, Julius Genachowski said the following: “The explosion of new technologies has significantly increased the availability of inappropriate content and elevated parents’ concerns. We recognize that technology has created profound new challenges for parents by vastly expanding the scope and quantity of media available to our children. But technology also can – and must – be part of the solution. Parents must have access to control technologies that can appropriately limit their children’s exposure to unsuitable material.”

Those words were spoken nearly twelve years ago…when Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video were still in their corporate cradles. Chairman Genachowski closed his remarks by saying that “in the days ahead, the Commission will initiate a new notice of inquiry that will seek to gather new information on this topic as well as others related to children and media in the digital age.” That never happened. We call on the FCC to fulfill that promise now…

Because Our Children Are Watching.

Take Action. Stay Informed.