Rigid Decency Standards Result in Decline in TV Viewership in US, Argue Some

by Gopalan on August 8, 2008 at 12:45 PM
Rigid Decency Standards Result in Decline in TV Viewership in US, Argue Some

Liberalize or perish. No, that's no slogan of those pushing for economic reforms. Only some in US seem to believe that the rigid censor code of oversight authorities has driven away viewers from TV channels.

Traditional television viewers are migrating to the web and to premium cable channels, critics argue and point to the fourth quarter results of the News Corp.


The operating income of News Corp.'s TV segment fell a whopping 28 percent amid a weak ad sales environment. Fox's woes aren't unique -- it's been a rotten year for network television as broadcasters struggle to hold on to dwindling viewers, who now find more compelling content online and on cable TV, claims Betsy Schiffman, writing on Wired website.

The numbers speak for themselves: Time Warner says HBO is poised to grow "by the double-digits" this year. News Corp. said one of the few bright spots of its TV business was its cable division, which grew operating income by $29 million to $313 million in the fourth quarter. And conventional wisdom has it that online video sites -- such as Hulu and YouTube -- are stealing market share from traditional television. Both subscription-based TV and online video sites are flourishing.

As any observer might note, a key difference between broadcast television and cable (or the internet), is that you may hear dirty words or see an exposed buttock online or on a cable program, Schiffman says.

"Without a doubt, the business model of network television is suffering from competition with other channels who operate with fewer content restrictions," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture and television at Syracuse University. "This country's obsession with not uttering naughty words and not talking about s-e-x is borderline psychotic. Strike that, it is psychotic."

While the major networks struggle to create compelling content that meets the FCC's rigid decency standards,

HBO, Showtime and AMC have pumped out profitable hits such as

Shows like The Sopranos, Sex & The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Weeds and Mad Men rake in money, evoking tremendous audience interest only because cable networks that air them do not have to contend with the "rigid decency standards" by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Such shows of course could not exist on broadcast television. And mind you the public are not only accepting such adult content, but are even paying to watch it.

"These are shows that could only be developed in a more relaxed regulatory environment," says Gerry Kaufhold, a principal analyst at InStat, a market research firm.

The migration hasn't only hurt the networks' ability to attract viewers, it's also made it increasingly challenging to attract talent.

"If you're a good writer, director or actor, your dream is to do an HBO series," says Thompson. "And it's only now that we're starting to see networks push back. After the wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, the networks were stumbling over themselves to apologize. But finally, they are challenging the decency rules. To some extent, this culture has got to grow up . . . there are a lot of people who would like to watch something more sophisticated than 'Father Knows Best.'"

Thus they argue at the very time the Parents Television Council (PTC)has brought out a study that showed broadcast networks portrayed sex inside marriage negatively and promoted promiscuity.

Only last week the council president Tim Winter condemned the television broadcast networks for attacking not only the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) recent enforcement of the broadcast indecency laws, but for trying to halt indecency enforcement altogether.

ABC, CBS and NBC have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court to defend Fox's claim that airing the "F-word" and "S-word" during two Fox awards show broadcasts was not indecent. ABC, CBS and NBC went so far as to criticize the Supreme Court's Pacifica and Red Lion rulings and claim that broadcasters should not be bound by any type of indecency law. 

"At long last the TV networks show their true colors. They don't want 'guidance' on what is or is not a legally indecent broadcast; they want the law overturned entirely," said PTC President Tim Winter.

"In spite of their Congressional testimonies promising to abide by the indecency laws; in spite of their pledges of zero-tolerance policies following the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast; in spite of signing consent decrees promising to adhere to the law; in spite of their legal briefs claiming that they would follow the indecency law if only they had better clarity from the FCC - now comes the truth: They don't want to abide by the law at all."

Source: Medindia
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