Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Preaching to the Choir: Profiling TV Advisory Ratings Users

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Preaching to the Choir: Profiling TV Advisory Ratings Users

Article excerpt

This investigation examines parents' use of the MPAA television advisory ratings in their decision-making and the manner by which ratings information is incorporated into rules and regulations about television in the home. The parents most likely to utilize TV ratings information, an expected small proportion of the sample, tended to employ a highly inductive (communication-oriented) style of child rearing and a highly evaluative (discussion-based) method of TV mediation. They believed that television can have significant positive and/or negative effects on children, and were more concerned with cognitive- and affective-level effects. Interestingly, these parents had children who tended to need mediation the least: average-to-high academic achievers who were low-to-moderate consumers of television. The possible ramifications of these findings with regard to the new content-driven ratings campaign and forthcoming V-chip technology are discussed.

In January 1996, with the House voting 414 to 16 and the Senate voting 91 to 5, the first major rewrite of communications regulation in half-century was approved. One provision of the new Telecommunications Act required every TV set sold in the U.S. to come with the ability to block programming based on an electronically encoded rating. The television industry itself was required to develop the rating system, which would identify "violence, sex and other indecent material" (cited in Stern, 1996, p. 9), and agree voluntarily to broadcast signals containing such ratings. In December 1996, Jack Valenti, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and head of the ratings effort, presented an on-screen system that separated general entertainment programs on broadcast and cable television into four age-based categories and children's programming into two: TV-M (mature audiences only); TV-14 (may be inappropriate for children under 14); TV-PG (parental guidance suggested); TV-G (suitable for all audiences); TV-Y7 (suitable for children 7 and older); and TV-Y (suitable for children of all ages). The rating system was implemented one month later.

It did not take long for critics of the proposed rating system to go public with their concerns. The Parents Television Council--the entertainment-monitoring arm of the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center--pronounced the TV Parental Guidelines "hopelessly vague," "inconsistent," and "contradictory" (Fleming, 1997a, p. 22). National Parent Teacher Association President Joan Dykstra called the industry's age-based system "confusing and insufficient," noting that nothing short of labeling sex, violence, and language would be acceptable (Fleming, 1997b, p. 8). Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairperson of the Communications Subcommittee, feared that parents would find the rating system counter-productive when attempting to influence their children's televiewing habits and practices (Aversa, 1997). Even Edward Markey (D-Mass.), father of the V-chip legislation that prompted the ratings, said that "the industry system doesn't give parents information they need to make appropriate decisions for their own kids, and it won't give them the choices they need to block programming" (Fleming, 1997a, p. 22).

Shortly after the rating system's nation-wide implementation, data confirming its general inadequacy and counter productivity was released. The Annenberg Public Policy Center, for example, reported that almost two-thirds (65.3%) of parents were not using the rating system to guide their children's viewing (Bash, 1997; see Mifflin, 1997). An investigation funded by the cable industry, the National Television Violence Study (see Krcmar & Cantor, 1997), found that the age-based advisory system placed stress on decision-making rather than serve to facilitate the process in most households and, thus, was quickly abandoned by parents. Greenberg, Rampoldi-Hnilo, and Ver Steeg (1998, pp. 30-31), in a study funded by the National Association of Broadcasters, found that respondents' "attention was low, their attitude only marginally positive, they seldom used the ratings, and their understanding of what content was included in the ratings and what kinds of television shows were rated was close to chance levels. …

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