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CABLE INDUSTRY MANEUVERS AGAINST DECENCY STANDARDS

Declines Content Changes; Promotes Parental Controls

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The cable TV industry, under pressure from Capital Hill to clean up programming or at least offer a family-friendly tier, today unveiled a major initiative to publicize existing parental choices even as it again declined to make changes to content.
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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association today said that starting June 1 ratings information for cable shows will be displayed more prominently -- in a larger size and appearing onscreen not only at a show's start but after every commercial break.

$250 million for PSAs
In addition the industry is promising $250 million worth of public service ads under the tagline “Take Control. It’s Easy,” explaining how parents can block programming. Finally the industry will hold a series of meetings around the country with the National PTA to explain program blocking

“We didn’t make this announcement predicated on any response from Capitol Hill,” NCTA President-CEO Kyle McSlarrow said. “We made this announcement because we thought it was the right thing to do.”

Either way, the response from Capitol Hill was predictable, especially from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has made cleaning up cable TV one of his causes. The senator, who is chairman of the Commerce Committee, said the proposal is "a step in the right direction ... [but] I don’t think it goes far enough."

FCC chairman
The newly installed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kenneth Martin, who has also made public his views on extending broadcast decency standards to pay TV, said he supports “providing parents with additional information, but I think the cable industry needs to do more to address parents’ legitimate concerns.

“I continue to believe the cable industry should offer a family tier or offer programming in a more a la carte manner,” Mr. Martin said.

Top cable industry officials, however, rejected both letting viewers pick and choose which cable channels they would buy and the option of a family-friendly tier of programs.

Maintaining the current model
The chairman-CEO of Comcast, Brian Roberts, said the cable industry’s model would not be sustainable if consumers were allowed to pick and choose individual channels to buy.

“Consumer choice and consumer content can only flourish with a cable model that allows various levels of service,” he said. Comcast is the nation's largest cable provider, with 21.5 million subscribers.

Judith McHale, president-CEO of Discovery Communications, said a family-friendly tier would be next to impossible to provide because there is little agreement of what “family-friendly” means.

Defining 'family-friendly'
“What is family-friendly for my family may be very different from what [a] family friendly [tier] provides. Who is going to decide what is a family-friendly tier?”

The Parents Television Council, a group that has been complaining about children being exposed to violent, profane and explicit programming, called the cable industry initiative a “sham.”

PTC President L. Brent Bozell said the cable industry should let consumers pay for only those cable networks they want.

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