RATINGS PLAN SPARKS WORRY ON TV QUALITY

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The labeling of TV shows and decreased content quality are two of Madison Avenue's biggest concerns with the introduction of a TV program rating system.

One ad agency executive involved in the TV buying process said he's concerned about advertisers wanting to avoid "a program . . . labeled with a scarlet letter."

He added that advertisers want to avoid being known as supporting a program that promotes "un-American values or thinking."

The new ratings system-which rates programs according to appropriateness for particular age groups-was unveiled last week and will take effect in January. A group of broadcast and cable TV executives introduced the system, which will use a series of six ratings that range from TV-Y for all children to TV-M for a mature audience.

VENUE FOR COMPLAINTS

Steve Klein, director of media services at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, said this system now gives a venue for consumers to voice complaints.

"Some of the activist groups are going to have some numbers to hang their opinions on. They'll be able to say, `So-and-so placed 30% of their TV advertising on shows that are rated TV-M,' " he said.

"The big fear is, is this rating system going to demolish the qualities of the programs out there?" said Page Thompson, media director at DDB Needham Worldwide. "What we've automatically done is stopped the entertainment community from pushing the envelope because they'll want to create content that will sell."

In the past, the fear of advertisers staying away from a controversial program has been short-lived. In the case of ABC's "NYPD Blue," advertisers stayed away from the program known for sexual content and vulgar language until it became a hit across the nation. Then advertisers clamored to support it.

How the new ratings will affect price negotiations is another concern of media executives.

"It's going to affect the buying," said Mr. Thompson. "If a network starts to know a trend of a client, they can inch the prices up because they know the playing field. If you start to limit the playing field, you're hurting yourself in the negotiation process."

Hal Shoup, exec VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies, is embracing the system, saying that "it's a good, workable one, and it's fair."

Contributing: Jane Hodges, Chuck Ross, Carol Krol.

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