Mr. Tartikoff, former chairman of both NBC Entertainment Group and Paramount Pictures Corp., painted an ominous future for free TV under a ratings system and the program-blocking V-chip.
Leading TV executives, including the heads of the Big 4 networks, pledged last week to develop a voluntary TV ratings system that will work with the TV chip and be in place by next January. The pledge came during meetings in Washington with President Clinton.
DAMPENING AD INTEREST
But Mr. Tartikoff, speaking during a panel discussion at the annual Media Conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in Orlando, said advertisers will be less interested in adult-theme shows that attract fewer viewers because they are being locked out of the home.
There is also a danger, Mr. Tartikoff said, that just getting an adult-theme rating will have a negative effect on advertising. If advertisers abandon adult dramas, networks will pay lower license fees for these shows, leading eventually to the shows' migration to premium cable.
A top network executive told Advertising Age last week he thinks Mr. Tartikoff is right.
"If the V-chip knocks off 10% of the viewing of an `NYPD Blue' or a `Homicide,' those shows are history," the executive said. "The economics of the business are such that most programs can't take that much of a hit. And if the V-chip doesn't knock off 10% of the viewers, what's the point of having it?"
Mike Moore, corporate exec VP-worldwide media director at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, admitted "some advertisers may indeed take the easy way and avoid a rating category. That would concern me."
He is also concerned that overly simplistic use of ratings by pressure groups or the public "could damage advertising."
While Mr. Tartikoff's remarks hit home with most of the agency media executives in attendance, fellow panelist Jack Myers, president of Myers Communications, said Hollywood will come up with more diverse programming in the face of the V-chip.
"The V-chip is a farce," said fellow panelist Jerry Dominus, senior VP-director of national TV and programming at J. Walter Thompson USA. "This is a country with 200 million guns. If you want to do something about violence, do something about that."
Panelist Betsy Frank, exec VP-director of strategic media resources, Zenith Media Services, said children are only 5% of the viewers in the 10 p.m. (ET) hour, and only 4% of "NYPD Blue" viewers are under 12 so kid viewing of the series is a non-issue.