Tuesday December 13th 2005, 12:55 pm
Filed under: FCC, Cable/Satellite
Salon.com joins just about every other major publication today in discussing the cable industry’s announcement that it will begin offering family-friendly programming packages.
Kevin Martin took the helm of the Federal Communications Commission this March with a clear mission: to crack down on basic cable’s most violent, vulgar and scantily clad programs. Time and again, he warned the industry that the status quo would not stand. Americans should not have to pay for ribald skits on Comedy Central or MTV, he argued, if all they wanted was to watch the Iraq war on CNN or penguins on the Discovery Channel. The cable industry, for its part, fought back against his threats, warning of protracted lawsuits and spiraling cable costs. Until Monday, no one knew who would blink first.
At a morning hearing, some of the nation’s biggest cable providers caved to Martin’s demands. Starting next year, they will offer a “family-choice” plan of basic cable programming to consumers. No longer will households be forced to pay for Jon Stewart and “South Park” in order to get access to Anderson Cooper and SpongeBob SquarePants. Cable companies have volunteered to make the changes, removing from the table a possible legal challenge on First Amendment grounds. But industry observers say the new pricing system is the direct result of government pressure. “There is an element of regulatory extortion at work here,” says Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation. “Everybody in town knows that.”
[NCTA President] Kyle McSlarrow… made it clear that the industry still strongly opposes any direct government regulation of cable content. “These individual decisions made by cable operators were not easy decisions,” McSlarrow explained. In the past, the industry has argued that the economic model of basic cable, which provides dozens of channels at one price, depended on giving some households channels they would not watch. From his downtown office, FCC chairman Martin quickly offered his blessing for the deal. “I am pleased,” he said in a statement. “Offering a family-friendly package has always been one of the options I supported.”
However, Dan Isett, director of government affairs for the Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog group with ties to the religious right, said PTC is still not satisfied with the cable industry’s peace offering. “It’s a good step, but it doesn’t do anything about the fundamental problem,” said Isett, noting that there are still many shows filled with mature content. He also worries about how family-friendly programming will be defined. For instance, Isett said cable providers’ family plans should not include channels like ABC Family, which shows PG-13 movies, Cartoon Network, which has late-night adult-themed cartoons, and TBS, which shows edited reruns of the HBO hit “Sex and the City.”
If the new family plans catch on, the biggest loser in the new deal is likely to be Viacom, which operates several of the cable stations with the raciest content, including MTV, BET, Comedy Central, VH1 and Logo, a nascent channel that targets the gay and lesbian market. Family groups have also assailed original shows like “Nip/Tuck” and “The Shield” on F/X, which is owned by News Corp., as well as weekly WWE wrestling programs, which are shown on several different basic cable networks. The new family plans could pressure those cable channels into censoring some of their shows, or risk the loss of cable fees and viewers.
But it remains unclear how popular the new family option will be. Though violence and sex on television has long been a hot topic in Congress, consumers have shown little interest in taking advantage of available channel-blocking technology, like the V-chip. A few years ago, satellite provider DirecTV offered a family-choice tier of about 10 channels for just $5 each month. The program was folded after a short time because there was little consumer interest. “We didn’t hear anything from our subscribers that they missed in any way the stand-alone tier,” a DirecTV spokesman told the trade publication Satellite Business News. In fact, no one seemed to notice the change.
« Readers and consumers respond »
The most interesting aspect of the Salon piece is the response it’s garnered from readers. Here’s a selection.
Why don’t you stop on it and post your own?
Dear Parents Television Council,
I cannot thank you enough for your tireless efforts to keep the television sanitized and pure for my nonexistant children. When my 26-54 year old girlfriend and myself sit down to watch television, it is a great comfort to note that one day, there will be no chance that we might inadvertantly select a program that could endanger a child who might happen to wander in through our locked front door.
It is comforting to reflect on this future – we will be able to flip the dial at ease, completely safe from the possibility that a stray nipple might offend a passer by who is peering intently into our living room from the sidewalk outside. We will not have to worry about becoming accidentally aroused by a racy image, or cringing at the sight of blood (unless Fox News is talking about what a bad man Saddam was).
It is, in short, reassuring to know that you fight for a world in which my childfree household will be perfectly safe for children. Only by sacrificing our options as adults can we create a world that is fit for raising children - regardless of whether we have any children to raise!
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If I could get rid of ESPN and all its siblings and get BBC and many of the upper tier stations, I would be a happier cable customer.
I don’t understand why parents need the cable companies to do the job of parenting, with blocking of stations available parents already have some control. There are also the words “NO, you can’t watch that.”
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My cable company allows me to block stations. My daughter is only 2, so when she’s old enough to work a remote control, I’ll block MTV. I blocked Fox “News”. It felt pretty good to do so. I don’t want or need Fox “News” or the other 25 “news” stations. I‘d drop the “religious” networks, too. (I wouldn’t doubt it if the FCC imposed a higher fee for not carrying these networks) I wouldn’t doubt it if the FCC goes after the Discovery and Science channels because they have programming on (gasp!) dinosaurs and cavemen, which didn’t really exist because they’re not in the Bible.
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Nothing against people with kids, but why can’t I demand the same thing? Why can’t I cut the channels I find offensive? The hunting/fishing channels. The evangelical nutbag channels. Fox News. The YES Network.
Offensive is in the eye of the beholder. And those of us without children also have legitimate preferences and tastes. Why are we not similarly catered to?
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I can think of a lot of channels I’d rather not pay for.
TBN, for one. This is the main reason Pat Robertson and his ilk are against ala-carte, because people like me click through on my way to Spike TV to watch dubbed Japanese game shows. Like many people, Pat Robertson gives me the jibblies.
What might fly though, is a system where you pay by the minute, like a phone plan. Call it “universal Pay-Per-View.” You get access to EVERYTHING, HBO, the Playboy channel, EVERYTHING included, and you vote with your subscriber dollars for quality TV. Nothing on? Turn the damn thing off and quit wasting money. People might get really interested in that interactive program guide you get with digital cable.
So what would be a reasonable rate per hour? I’d suggest the following:
Commercial-supported channels, plus PBS: $0.10/hr., $1.00/day max.
Commercial-free channels: $0.20/hr to $0.50/hr, depending on content. “Hey, you’ve seen that stupid Dodgeball movie ten times already? How about giving me a break?”
Think of the savings in bandwidth!
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Religious Conservative Reasoning
Fundamentalists and many of the deeply conservative types DO want to control what everyone else watches/does.
Their reasoning: they believe ANY access to sex, bad language, porn, violence, whatnot and so on will damage the community as a whole…essentially, that ANYONE being able to watch (or do)anything ‘inappropriate’ hurts community morals and affects everyone’s life.
What they really want is the kind of totally policed community that the delightful Puritans enforced so merrily. They won’t stop pushing for their ‘real’ aim - that of sanitizing and censoring everything in sight.
– Cynthia Montgomery