Broadcast Nets to Add Content Ratings Online

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As B&C first reported Sunday night, major broadcast networks confirmed Monday that they will begin putting TV content ratings on online delivery of their TV shows, beginning in December

ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo and Univision said they plan to give parents "even greater decision-making power" over their kids viewing over the Internet, where kids are increasingly accessing video, broadcast and otherwise.

The move won't be much of a stretch for NBCUniversal, which already provides ratings info online, including Hulu, per a public interest pledge to the Federal Communications Commission to help it secure the approval of the Comcast/NBCU joint venture.

The networks will be making the rating info available for all full-length shows that stream on the websites they control. The nets have committed to putting the ratings at the beginning of the shows and in online programming descriptions. Network websites will also link to ratings system info.

The announcement comes even as the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether or not the FCC can continue to weigh in on what it thinks is or is not appropriate content. It also comes as broadcasters move more of their content online and the FCC wrestles with how to treat online video distributors when it comes to various regulations -- access and carriage rules, for example.

"I applaud the networks' commitment to empower parents. With our rapidly changing media marketplace, it is vital parents have tools to help them make informed choices," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. While the FCC has defended its indecency enforcement policies in courts, the chairman has also argued that parents, together with technology, are the best governors of kids media consumption.

"For years, the content ratings have proven to be one of the most popular tools parents use to help make decisions about what their children watch on television," said TV Watch Executive Director Jim Dyke in a statement. "The most recent data shows that 68 percent of parents use the TV ratings system and 95 percent of the parents who use them often find the ratings helpful.... By taking this step today, these networks are giving parents an expanded set of tools to help determine what their children watch based on their own taste, style and age."

TV Watch was launched by the networks to promote the TV ratings/V-chip parental controls to combat congressional pressure for indecency legislation and tougher FCC enforcements.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called it a good "first step."

"We are fast moving to a world where our children's video viewing is not limited to the television screen -- but is on any screen, at any time," said Rosenworcel. "The way we watch is clearly changing. But what is not changing is the need to provide parents with simple and honest means to monitor and [manage] their children's viewing. Today's announcement is a first step in the right direction. I applaud ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, TeleFutura, Telemundo, and Univision for making this commitment."

"NAB supports the broadcast networks' initiative," said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters."This represents a voluntary, good faith effort from distributors of the most popular programming to empower and educate parents in monitoring the viewing habits of children."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was instrumental in pushing broadcasters to adopt the TV ratings system, also applauded the networks' move of those ratings online.

"In the wireless world, consumers no longer need to be tethered to their television to enjoy the latest programming. Mobility has dramatically expanded the range of venues for watching TV," Markley said in a statement, but it has not changed the values that led to creation of the ratings system: parents still want tools to keep adult material away from their children. The extension of the use of parental guidelines to web-based content reflects this reality, and I commend the networks for offering parents the tools to exercise viewing choices."
Below is the pledge all the networks signed, according to a copy from Fox.

Empowering Parents in the Digital Age

"The undersigned broadcast networks recognize the value of providing parents with tools to evaluate the television programming that their children watch. One valuable tool for parents is the TV ratings system that the industry has voluntarily put in place.

Because the broadcast networks believe parents may find it useful to have these ratings for televised programming available when children access programs on the Internet, the undersigned commit to make ratings information available for full-length programs that air on their broadcast networks with parental ratings and are subsequently made available on websites that the broadcast networks control. The precise means of making the information available will be determined by each company, but the TV ratings will appear at the beginning of full-length video programs and also in the online programming descriptions.

This commitment will be effective for full-length rated programming posted online after Dec. 1, 2012, on websites controlled by the undersigned broadcast network companies.

Broadcast network websites will also include or link to information about the ratings system. The undersigned will announce fulfillment of their commitment in December 2012."

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