Decency in TV Programming Questioned

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It has been a trend that has gone on for a number of years that cable's penetration rate is nearing that of broadcast's. As the prevalence of cable and the furor over media decency that started at the Superbowl half-time show grows, the questions about appropriate broadcast and cable programming and who or what should regulate programming are ones that market research and survey firm, E-Poll, in Encino, Calif. tried to answer. The firm asked respondents how they thought programming regulation should be handled, as well as their opinions on the content produced by both cable and broadcast networks. The results showed that cable leads the way in terms of quality content and that a division in the public exists as to how to best handle the issue of decency on television.

Cable continues to outshine broadcast competitors when it comes to programming and the poor quality of broadcast television is likely one of the main reasons for the growth in cable penetration. As CEO of E-Poll, Gerry Philpott, comments, "The profiles for broadcast and cable programs' content clearly reveal the damage broadcast has brought upon itself by not keeping pace with marketplace needs. In essence, these programs have actually pushed viewers into cable's stable. While more than four out of 10 people describe broadcast programs as "the same old thing" and "less appealing than in the past," about one-half find cable's programs "entertaining" and "interesting."

Although cable programming received such glowing praise from E-Poll's respondents, the question of decency still proves to be a hot button. Sexual content, nudity, and foul language were most often identified as offensive, especially among older demographics. Surprisingly, the 55 and over demographic even finds foul language to be more objectionable than sexual content and nudity.

The old adage, "I'll know it when I see it," probably is the best description of how the television viewing public judges the question of indecency, but whether or not cable should have the same regulations on decency creates a division among respondents. There was an almost even split between 37 percent of respondents who agreed, at least somewhat, that cable have the same standards as broadcast and the 37.7 percent who felt that cable should have less stringent standards. Either way, finding a governing board that would be willing to get involved would be very difficult. Michael Powell and the FCC are already tied up with Howard Stern and the Superbowl incident, and there most likely aren't many others who would be willing to throw themselves into such and incendiary situation.

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