V-chip threatens to knock out TV ads

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A new threat to advertising has emerged with the so-called V-chip, approved three months ago--along with a TV program ratings system--by the Federal Communications Commission.

Thomson Consumer Electronics, maker of RCA- and GE-branded TV sets, said its V-chip would allow consumers not only to cut out the rated programs, but also unrated programming. That could include news, sports, promotions and local commercials.

The National Association of Broadcasters said last week it never agreed to a system that would let viewers cut off unrated programs or commercials, and said its willingness to continue airing V-chip ratings could be "in jeopardy."

4 A'S OBJECTIONS

A top official of the American Association of Advertising Agencies said ad agencies would never agree to rating their ads.

"If there is a ratings system for TV commercials, you are saying [that] some portion [of them] need to be rated," said Hal Shoup, Four A's exec VP.

Under the existing system, networks using the ratings--NBC did not agree to do so--air the signal during the entire network portion of the show, including network commercials during the show.

Thomson, now planning for TV sets that will start arriving in July 1999, chose to give viewers the choice of blocking unrated programming as well.

"We think there are parents who don't want their kids watching the blood and gore of local news and the aggressive nature of some sports," said a Thomson spokesman. "There are more than 40 brands of color televisions and we want to distinguish ourselves."

The spokesman said broadcasters are making "a mountain out of a molehill," adding it was unlikely significant numbers of viewers would turn off news and sports. He also noted parents groups, including the National PTA, requested the choice earlier and neither broadcasters nor advertisers objected.

Broadcasters and advertisers could avoid the problem by providing ratings on commercials, he said, adding Thomson felt it was "irrelevant" whether its own ads aired with ratings.

MORE FRAGMENTATION

Ad groups expressed concern about the technology further affecting an already fragmented, hard-to-reach consumer audience.

"It is very disturbing to advertisers," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "Clearly anything that allows anyone to block advertising ... would be the end of free TV as we know it. There is not going to be free TV if no one is watching the ads."

"Broadcasters will not allow that to happen," said Mr. Shoup.

"You can't look at commercials the same way you look at programming," he said. "If you look at commercials vs. programming [in terms of controversy], commercials are pretty much pabulum."

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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