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Commentary: TV Ratings Should Be Based on Content of Entire Time Block

Monday, December 10, 2007 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:23 AM, under

Athens, GA (Dec 10, 2007) - Warning: This Commentary is Rated PG-13 for sexual references and violent content.

I have long come to accept that when picking out a movie for the children to watch that the standard ratings of G, PG, PG-13 and R do not mean a whole lot. I have sat through PG movies that should have been PG-13, as well as the reverse. So I now know to find out more about a movie beyond the ratings. Some time ago, television added ratings to help parents decide what to allow their children to watch, and so that the built-in V-Chip functionality can block shows based on parental set ratings levels.

But there is a small problem in this thinking: the ratings only apply to the content of a show's content, not to any advertisements or network promotions that air during the show. I had to deal with this last week on the USA Network when the kids were trying to watch the family movie "Elf". Every time the commercials came on, I had to scramble for the remote control because the USA Network would choose to run promos for some crime show, and the ads would discuss graphic sex and rape. This is just what every parent wants to see during a family movie. This has long been a problem with televised sports, especially when the down and distance marker placed on the field would be sponsored by "The Purple Pill". Other times you would have Jim Nantz, on CBS Sports golf coverage (except for The Masters), reading some promo filled with references to sex, drugs or violence. Never mind that the on-screen rating for the event would be TV-G.

But last night, the line was truly crossed for this parent. I was sitting with my youngest daughter watching the TV-G rated "Planet Earth" on the Discovery Channel. When the ads came on, I was mostly nonchalant, until the ad for Levitra, with its full on description of male sexual disorders and erectile dysfunction came on the air. At first shocked that this was airing on a family time, educational show on the Discovery Channel, once again I quickly reached for the remote. I have since come to expect such things on the USA Network, the broadcast networks, and others. I would never have expected this from The Discovery Channel.

The cable and over-the-air networks are not making it any easier for parents to monitor the content of what their children are seeing on the screen. One would hope that you could leave your child alone in a room to watch a television show that was clearly marked TV-G. Unfortunately, we cannot because the ratings only apply to the content of the show. The ratings should, however, reflect the content of anything and everything that airs during the time period of the show. That means commercials and promotions. As a parent, I should have some comfort that the voluntary rating systems actually mean something. We cannot be everywhere all the time. And we should not be forced into having to buy TIVO or some other DVR system to watch things after the fact to eliminate this content.

Shame on you Discovery Channel and Discovery Networks for pandering to an audience that does not include children, making our job as parents more difficult.

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