NCTA Unveils Campaign to Promote Blocking Technology

Apr 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to head off indecency regulation for the cable TV industry, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association on Wednesday announced a new campaign to promote existing industry technology allowing subscribers to block offensive programming from their homes.

Under one of the campaign’s key initiatives, industry leaders vowed to promote blocking technology with public service announcements valued at more than $250 million in the next year. They also pledged to sponsor 100 events in local markets to educate consumers about their options. In addition, they said they plan to make program ratings icons larger on network programming and include them more frequently in shows.

“The cable industry shares the concerns of many parents who want to guard against TV content they feel may be inappropriate for their children,” said Kyle McSlarrow, NCTA president and CEO.

Critics, led by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have been urging the industry to address the issue of off-color programming by offering a family-friendly programming tier or taking even more dramatic steps. But at a press briefing in Washington, Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, said retiering would undermine the economic model that has spurred the creation of so many cable networks.

“Family-friendly differs from family to family,” added Judith McHale, president and CEO of Discovery Communications. “How do you define family-friendly?”

In response to NCTA’s announcement, Sen. Stevens said, “I don’t think it quite goes far enough.” He added, “I think it is a step in the right direction. It shows they’re thinking about the issues we’ve raised. … I give Kyle McSlarrow a lot of credit for trying to bring the industry around to looking at the criticism, and what he’s done would have been unheard of a year ago. So it’s a very, very good step in the right direction.”

In a statement, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin also expressed concern about the cable industry’s initiative.

“I always support providing parents with additional information, but I think the cable industry needs to do more to address parents’ legitimate concerns,” Mr. Martin said. “I continue to believe the cable industry should offer a family tier or offer programming in a more a la carte manner.”

Also panning the NCTA’s proposal was the watchdog Parents Television Council. “This $250 million sham is being foisted on American consumers by the cable industry with the sole purpose of shirking responsibility for its product,” PTC President L. Brent Bozell said in a statement.

“In an effort to protect their billion-dollar empires, the cable industry is spending tens of millions of dollars on a red herring like the v-chip. Instead, the industry should provide the ability for consumers to pick and choose — and to pay for — only those cable networks that subscribers want, rather than forcing consumers to pay for channels they don’t want. And if the cable industry won’t allow that to happen, they should be forced to abide by the very same indecency guidelines which govern network broadcasters.”

Mr. McSlarrow said, “We didn’t make this announcement predicated on any response on Capitol Hill. We made this announcement because we thought it’s the right thing to do.”

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said broadcasters are already doing everything the NCTA pledged to do. “This is much ado about nothing,” Mr. Wharton said.