FCC Will Reassess V-Chip, Ratings System

Critics argue that the V-Chip is little-used — and needs updating.

Last Updated: August 25, 2009 @ 12:18 PM

The Federal Communications Commission is about to open a second front in its reassessment of the V-chip and of family-friendly programming — including whether it is possible to have a single-content ratings system that can apply to movies, videogames, TV and cellphones.

 
The study may also look at ways to ensure that once a TV or movie is rated, data is readily available whether the program subsequently is viewed on TV, cable, a phone or a computer.
 
An initial report, due later this week or early next week, concludes repeatedly that considerably more information is needed before any changes can be recommended, say individuals close to the FCC.
 
And, according to the report, the FCC intends to shortly initiate a far broader and more detailed examination into how the current system works in a multi-platform world.
 
The FCC is due to release the initial report under a directive from Congress, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. His Child Safe Viewing Act questioned whether the FCC was doing an adequate job of fulfilling its obligation to continuously review and implement family-friendly blocking technology and told the FCC to complete a report by the end of August.
 
When he introduced the legislation, Pryor suggested parents “needed a little help” in the 500-channel universe, and today’s technology could offer more possibilities to protect children.
 
Congress in 1996 required TV set makers to include the V-Chip in TVs. The chip allows parents to set their TVs to screen out shows whose ratings didn’t meet their standards.
 
Critics argue that the technology needs updating and can now offer more information, and that it’s too confusing, because movies, TV programs and music each use different ratings systems and because some TV programs are rated inconsistently between networks.
 
“I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that the public understands it,” Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, told TheWrap. “It may be they are aware of it, but what everybody is concerned with is whether it works and is of utility to parents.”
 
Studies have found that relatively few American families actually use the V-Chip.
 
TV networks, the cable industry and the National Association of Broadcasters, meanwhile, have argued that the current V-Chip system works fine, and that the “You are the boss” public service campaign solved problems about awareness of the chip, while the web has offered the possibility for parents to more easily research recommendations for content.
 
This is the second front in the FCC’s investigation of family-friendly issues launched by the FCC’s new chairman, Julius Genachowski.
 
In July Genachowski announced the FCC would examine whether the agency’s current broadcast rules on kids programming are adequate at a time when hundreds of cable channels are available without restriction.