The decision to include advertising among the TV fare that will be monitored for violence came at the behest of the networks, said Jeffrey Cole, executive director of the Center for Communication Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. The center will do the monitoring.
Mr. Cole said network executives were troubled by the often graphic content of promotions for movies, particularly on Thursdays during early evening viewing hours.
Sen. Paul Simon (D., Ill.) and network executives last week announced the selection of the UCLA center as the monitoring agency.
The UCLA reports will carry no authority, save the public attention they will bring to any offending program or network.
For the senator, the announcement capped a 10-year crusade against violent TV programs that began with his unintentional viewing of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in a hotel room.
"Independent audits on TV violence will ... pinpoint responsibility and give viewers a way to compare," Sen. Simon said.
For the networks, it was the least objectionable alternative to threats of a legislated ratings code or government report cards of violent shows and their sponsors. Expanding the scope of the monitoring beyond just programming also takes some heat off the four networks, which otherwise would have risked absorbing all the blame when the center issues its report.
Still, the inclusion of TV spots, which CBS Exec VP Martin Franks said were fairly scrutinized by network censors, caught many off-guard.
The Association of National Advertisers rejected the possibility of a TV spot qualifying as violent.
"In any of my discussions of TV violence with [congressional] members on Capitol Hill, no one ever raised advertisements as a reason for concern," said Dan Jaffe, ANA exec VP. "Their only concerns in that regard were usually for ads that supported programs that were gratuitously violent."
John Kamp, VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said he isn't worried "because commercials are not violent-well, maybe some are a little bit-but the networks are trying to get the focus of the study broader so people will appreciate that the networks are not the whole target, but the whole panoply of products.
"There were a couple that were controversial in that nature-the [Reebok] bungee-jumping ad, but that was less violent than it was potentially dangerous. And the market took care of it. Advertisers are not interested in having negatively controversial ads; in fact, they shy away from them."
Dave Vadehra, president of Video Storyboard Tests, a New York-based researcher, said he doesn't believe violent TV spots exist.
"Can you think of a violent TV commercial?" Mr. Vadehra asked. "The advertising business doesn't have to worry about coming under attack for violence because there are very few, if any, violent spots."
The three-season study will cost as much as $500,000 and be funded by the four networks, said CBS Senior VP Martin Franks.
Sen. Simon said the study will encompass prime-time programming, made-for-TV movies, children's shows, after-school programs, public broadcasting, video rentals and videogames.
Mr. Franks said advertiser reaction was "mixed."
"Some reacted very responsibly, but some took the prophylactic approach-take me out of any controversial program," he said. "That's unfortunate because it deprives the public of good, though controversial, programming."
"The Wildmons of the world have had an impact," he said, referring to the Rev. Donald Wildmon, an outspoken critic of TV fare.
Mr. Cole said evaluations will be based on context, and he is most concerned by "excessive and inappropriate" violence. He defined unacceptable violence as that which goes unpunished, is not relevant to the plot or could have been shown less graphically.