Stevens, Martin: Cable Can Do More

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Washington -- Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) Wednesday called the cable industry’s new effort to keep kids from seeing TV sleaze “a step in the right direction,” but he complained that he didn’t “think it quite goes far enough.”

Stevens has been a tough cable critic of late, threatening some form of indecency regulation if the industry did not do a better job of shielding children from random access to sex and profanity.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin had a similar reaction: It was good to see cable taking action, but more was needed to address legitimate parental concerns.

“I continue to believe the cable industry should offer a family tier or offer programming in a more a la carte manner,” Martin said in a prepared statement. Martin has said that the FCC does not have authority to regulate cable for indecency.

At a press conference here, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and Discovery Communications Inc. CEO Judith McHale joined National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow to announce the industry’s multipart program to keep parents on top of what their kids are seeing on cable.

Key elements of the plan, embraced by broad segments of the industry, include: a $250 million public-service campaign highlighting blocking capabilities of digital set-tops; expansion of on-screen ratings icons by 70% and their insertion after every commercial for 15 seconds; and 100 community-based outreach efforts by MSOs to inform parents about content controls and steer them to helpful information at the industry’s “Control Your TV” Web site (www.controlyourtv.org).

“We want every parent in America to know about parental controls,” Roberts said.

Cable also pledged to continue to provide free blocking tools to subscribers who do not have the capability to do so with V-chip-equipped TVs or set-tops.

Stressing education as the cornerstone of their efforts, the cable leaders would not budge from their opposition to family-friendly tiers and a la carte, saying that the former was too subjective and the latter was a ruinous business model that even government studies backed them on.

Unbundling big cable tiers, Roberts said, is “not sustainable,” adding, “Consumer choice and diversity of content only have flourished because of the cable model that allows for various levels of service."

McHale argued that the cable industry would have difficulty deciding -- if it were left to the industry to decide -- what channels belong in a family-friendly tier.

“How do you define family-friendly? Who is going to define what is family-friendly? Frankly, family-friendly differs from family to family,” McHale said.

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