Advertisers Defend Graphic Shows


New York – The head of a media watchdog group that targets sponsors of TV shows it finds objectionable was in the lion’s den Tuesday, drawing a somewhat hostile response from a group of national advertisers.

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, pled his case for sponsors to be more careful about where they put their ad dollars during a panel at the 2007 Association of National Advertisers TV Forum.

“Our goal is to have collaborative efforts to help you reach your demographic market,” Winter said. “We want you to win. We want to do it a way that hopefully does not encourage or sponsor graphic anti-family programming.”

But during the session on “Media Advocacy Groups: Friend or Foe?,” three attendees complained to Winter about the PTC’s tactics, with one audience member suggesting that advertisers should be able to take action for “restraint of trade” when angry e-mails or phone calls from advocacy groups flood their companies.

The PTC has been a vocal critic of programming such as Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck on FX and a variety of the offerings on Comedy Central, in addition to a multitude of broadcast shows, including Fox’s 24.

The watchdog group encourages its 1.1 million members to write letters to advertisers that sponsor such shows, and PTC officials show up at the shareholder meetings of companies that have advertised on shows they deem objectionable because of their sexual or violent content.

Winter argued that the parental-control technology such as V-chips, TV content ratings and a $300 million public-affairs campaign to inform parents about their options to block objectionable content from their kids weren’t doing the job.

But Dan Jaffe, the ANA’s executive vice president of government relations, argued that those controls were enough.

“What we have always said is that we don’t want to have censorship in this society, where some group becomes a surrogate parent, for a surrogate person to decide what should come into the home,” Jaffe said. “Parents should have that power.”

During the session, the attendees were electronically polled, and asked “Do advertisers feel threatened by advocacy groups?” Some 59% answered “No,” and 41% said “Yes.”

In a second question, attendees were asked who should shield children from what they watch on TV, with choices including advocacy groups such as the PTC, the Federal Communications Commission, broadcasters, advertisers or parents. Parents drew the most votes, with 0% saying that advocacy groups should play that role.

One audience member complained that the panel was “ridiculous,” telling Winter that parents or viewers who find a particular TV show objectionable can just turn it off.

“I’d like to possibly see if I could get my money back for today,” one attendee said. “This conversation is ridiculous as an advertiser. You have a television. You have a remote control. Turn it off tell your daughter to leave the room … I think you should start to boycott maybe Sony, or Samsung and Comcast and everyone else out there, because they actually bring the programming into the home.”

Winter said he appreciated the difference of opinion, but added, “I think it’s unfortunate that it has to be so venomous.”

During the panel, Winter reiterated the PTC’s argument in favor of a la carte programming, that consumers should be able to purchase only the cable networks that they want to receive.

“I believe there is a cartel … a fraud that the cable industry … has perpetrated on consumers,” he said.