Broadcast Networks Say Audience Decline Makes FCC Rules Archaic
The broadcast networks want to operate under the same FCC guidelines as the cable networks. And they should.
Deadline New York (“Broadcasters Tell FCC That Audience Decline Makes Indecency Rules Archaic“):
When they talk to Wall Street, broadcast moguls love to boast about their financial power and unparalleled ability to reach mass audiences. But the FCC heard a different story this week from networks as they challenged the agency’s efforts to minimize indecent programming. Companies say that the rules are too vague, that they clash with broadcasters’ First Amendment rights, and that parents can control what their kids watch. But ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC also say that rules are archaic because the networks have lost so much cultural clout. Fox says in an FCC filing, “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.” In a separate filing, NBCUniversal observes that “Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st Century Americans.” Broadcast network affiliates’ total day share of viewing “was just 28 percent in the 2010-2011 television season – compared to the 53 percent viewing share held by ad-supported cable programming networks.” CBS also notes that “the day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”
The rules made sense thirty, even twenty years ago. Back then, cable television was essentially a platform for showing re-runs from the networks, live sports, and theatrical movies. The handful of original creative shows were mostly R-rated T&A shows that HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime—premium priced providers—aired late at night. Nowadays, the distinction between “broadcast” and “cable” or “satellite” is largely irrelevant. Even the likes of USA Network and A&E are producing their own programming and most of us time-shift our viewing via our DVRs. I frankly don’t know what time most of the shows I watch air and am only vaguely aware of which network airs them. And any show that airs after 9pm is getting watched later in the week at an earlier hour, anyway, so the “family time” concept is irrelevant.
Presumably, there are still families that sit around the living room in the evening watching television together. But there’s plenty of information available now about the language, violence, and sexual content of each showing, including a suggested level of age appropriateness. Just as parents are trusted to determine whether their young children can see a given NC-17 movie at the theater, they can make the same choices at home. And, if parents aren’t parenting, it really doesn’t matter given that most homes are connected to cable or satellite and children who want to watch “naughty” programming can easily find it.
There’s a market for family-friendly television. Most of what’s on television, in fact, conforms to that standard, at least if we don’t hold to 1950s notions of acceptable language and sexual depiction. But that’s just as true on the non-broadcast channels as those nominally shown over-the-air.