Industry sources confirm the Federal Communications Commission has been approaching media trade associations with inquiries about the TV rating/V-Chip system, with an eye toward possible changes.
There has already been one meeting with association staffers and the FCC is looking for another to continue the discussions.
Confirming a report in the National Journal that the FCC was opening the discussion, a source familiar with the talks said that commission staffers had met with the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Motion Picture Association of America, all of whom are members of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which oversees the ratings system to insure it is applied uniformly across various media.
An FCC source, speaking on background, said commission staffers were just the beginning discussions, which would continue next month with the full ratings monitoring board. "I'll confirm that we had initial discussions," said the source, "in preparation for a larger meeting in March."
The FCC is said to be at least considering whether the V-chip technology in sets should be adjusted to allow for setting it to the preferences of outside rating groups. "We generally said 'What are some of the issues and how would you go forward?' " said the FCC source, "without getting into the policy discussions of how that would be achieved."
As part of an ongoing review of protecting kids and giving parents more control over their children's media consumption, the FCC issued a report in August 2009 on content control technologies, pointing out that there was no consistent, universal ratings system andpointing to some limitations of the V-chip. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has consistently said he wouldprefer improving the current voluntary system with technological, parent-empowering fixes rather than government mandates, though he has continued to argue that there is a place for FCC regulation in the interests of protecting children.
Genachowski is well versed in the content-control issue. He is a founding board member of Common Sense, whose mission is to provide age-appropriate reviews of media content to help viewers control theirkids' media intake. Top cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox all use Common Sense information, including, in Comcast's case, for both VOD and online content.
NBC, for one, agreed to make its ratings clearer and triple their onscreen time from five seconds to 15seconds as one of its public interest commitments in the Comcast/NBCU deal. Comcast also pledged to expandits agreement with Common Sense for ratings information and said it would "look for more opportunities towork with NBCU.