What Is Media Executives' Responsibility to Kids?

Panel: Moonves, Parsons and Weinstein Do What They Can

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Harvey Weinstein had a problem last Saturday night. The co-chair of Weinstein Co. and former Miramax president had an ad running the following night during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLI for "Hannibal Rising," a prequel of sorts in the saga of the fava-favoring cannibal. Though the 30-second spot barely hinted at Lecter's taste for a certain flesh, the issue of most concern to Mr. Weinstein in the 11th-hour was the use of the word "terrifying" to describe the thriller.
Harvey Weinstein didn't want to startle the children.
Harvey Weinstein didn't want to startle the children. Credit: AP

That's when Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, got a call asking if the word could be swapped with "electrifying" so as not to startle any kids who might still be watching the game.

"It's not often I take a call directly from a sponsor at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night," Mr. Moonves told an audience of children's researchers at the Aspen Institute's inaugural "Beyond Primetime" conference in New York. "But he's my friend, and for $2.3 million I'm happy to take his call."

Tricky situations
Mr. Moonves, Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons and Mr. Weinstein, founder of Weinstein Co., all were participating on a panel moderated by The New Yorker's Ken Auletta titled "What Is the Responsibility of Media Leaders?"

Such tricky situations at Super Bowl time are nothing new to Mr. Moonves, who said his network has still not fully recovered from the aftermath of Janet Jackson's nipple flash in 2004. The intent of potentially controversial scenes has to be discussed before they get on the air or sometimes even shot, and CBS's 220 affiliates also have to be considered, because each can be fined individually for indecency.

To his relief, Mr. Moonves was pleased with this year's halftime performance. "Prince was great. Thank God he left his clothes on."

Children were also his motivation for running a 15-second public-service announcement starring both Super Bowl teams' coaches for Big Brothers & Big Sisters, one of many necessary actions the network has taken to include children in its programming. "We could've made $1.2 million, but we said, 'No, no, that's our job as corporate citizens,'" he said.

What's going on
Children are an important part of the media landscape to executives such as Mr. Moonves, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Parsons, who has also made his share of tough calls in consideration of the youngest demographic. Mr. Parsons said he would bring his 14-year-old daughter to see his studio's "Blood Diamond" despite its R rating and graphic battle scenes because "the violence is authentic, not intended to pander or hype. It tells the story of what's going on in the world."

Mr. Weinstein added that many parents make the mistake of using their TVs as a baby sitter, when in fact their role as parents is to provide their children with the necessary information to determine what programming is intended for them to watch.

Mr. Parsons noted that advertisers sold into a program aimed at children need to be age-appropriate, and steer children away from programming not meant for them. "Ads running on that programming need to be different. Then they won't tune in to those other programs. The consumer then backs up to support the provider and more preschool-friendly programming."

'Soft movies'
Weinstein Co. made a recent bid for the children's market with "Miss Potter," a Renee Zellweger biopic of Beatrix Potter that was released quietly at the end of the year to qualify for Oscar consideration and got lost in the slew of kid-friendly competition. The film will be re-released in March to find a wider audience.

"Every time I make a soft movie it's so slow," Mr. Weinstein said. "People say, 'It's such a lovely movie,' then nobody goes. I've done it before with 'Il Postino' and 'Like Water for Chocolate' and they ended up being big successes for us."
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