VIEWPOINT: WEIGH IN ON TV RATINGS; SMART OLD DOG

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Fox tv founder Barry Diller a while back spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, expressing his doubts about whether the TV industry's acceptance of the V-chip was wise. It was just a few weeks later that Center for Science in the Public Interest offered a clear look at Mr. Diller's wisdom, asking the Federal Communications Commission to consider giving parents the right to use the V-chip to block advertising.

Now we have TV-except for NBC and Black Entertainment Television-again bowing to pressure and agreeing to add a new subset of program ratings to a previous set, and even Congress can't decide if it's smart. The TV leaders said they would add the letters V, S, L or D-and FV, which means Fantasy Violence, not the logical Family Viewing-to the existing TV-Y7, TV-14, TV-MA and other labels.

Proponents say the expanded system is intended merely to inform parents on content, but we can't envision parents trying to decipher TV-Y7-FV or TV-14-V-S-L (or maybe that L should be D, the distinction-if it's possible-being language vs. dialogue). But another intent surfaced in comments from critics and congressmen, with suggestions the system will change programming in part by putting pressure on advertisers not to support certain shows.

So, program sponsors are a target of the confusing, multilayered, "course dialogue" taking place in Washington. Said one executive, "The entity that has escaped scrutiny has been the advertisers."

Big advertisers appear unconcerned; but, as Mr. Diller mused previously, advertiser inaction on mandated TV ratings also is unwise. While the situation is still in flux, buyers of TV ad time had better get interested before the programming that must draw in consumers gets down to the lowest common ratings denominator.

Smart old dog

Too often in business, things are done a certain way simply because they've been done that way for a long time- sometimes for so long no one even raises the question anymore of whether the traditional route remains the best one. Time Inc.'s People now stands among those that did question a traditional business practice and found it lacking. As a result, it's acting like an industry leader in making a change from which it-and the magazine industry-seem sure to benefit.

What People is doing is shifting its on-sale date so the magazine is first available at retail over the weekend rather than on Monday morning. That way, consumers can pick up the newest issue when they have the most free time to spend on activities such as reading a magazine.

What sounds like an obvious, perhaps even meaningless, move actually will have major ramifications. It took-with apologies to Disney-a Herculean effort on People's part to change the way wholesalers and retailers distribute and stock magazines, to shift its own editorial deadlines and to get other Time Inc. titles to rework their printing schedules. Already, News Corp.'s TV Guide, the best-selling magazine at newsstands, is testing such a move.

Early tests indicate People will see as much as a double-digit increase in single-copy sales. One wholesaler said that prior to the tests, he would've laughed at the suggestion those sales would increase significantly. Now, he notes, "I guess old dogs have to learn new tricks."

At the least, they have to question whether old tricks still work-a lesson that extends to every marketer, ad agency and media company operating in today's business world.

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