FCC Unsure of TV Content Ratings Accuracy

WASHINGTON—The FCC is giving an incomplete on its Congressionally-mandated review of the current television content rating system. While the commission’s Media Bureau lays out instances that indicate that the current ratings system could be applied better to some video content, a definitive or specific conclusion as to “the extent to which the rating system matches the video content is being shown” could not be reached in the 90 days allotted for review.

The Media Bureau was tasked by Congress to look into the voluntary ratings system designed by the NAB, the National Cable Television Association and the Motion Picture Association of America and approved by the FCC in 1998 as a response to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Media Bureau issued a Public Notice in February that sought comments on the accuracy of television content ratings and the ability of the TV Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) to oversee the ratings and address public concerns.

Nearly 1,800 comments were filed for the Public Notice. A number of commenters made the argument that “the TV Parental Guidelines are not applied accurately to television programming,” citing violence, sexual situations and other “mature” content are being rated appropriately for children. However, Industry Representatives say that surveys they conducted as recently as 2018 find that 94% of parents were satisfied with the accuracy of the TV Parental Guidelines.

Similarly, the view on the operations of the TVOMB was dependent on what side of the industry commenters came down on. Those representing parents were worried about the TVOMB’s process for collecting and responding to complaints, as well as the group’s transparency. Industry reps stressed the value that the TVOMB provides in helping parents understand the ratings system.

The Media Bureau ultimately determined that the TVOMB had “been insufficiently accessible and transparent to the public,” noting that when the review began the TVOMB did not have a phone number for the public to contact, though that problem was ultimately resolved. Even so, it was recommended that steps should be taken to increase awareness, with suggestions of improving the TVOMB’s promotion of its role overseeing the ratings system; providing more information on the complaints that TVOMB receives and their resolutions; and holding at least one public meeting a year.

However, unable to, as it states, effectively determine the accuracy of the current TV ratings, the Media Bureau does believe “that sufficient concerns have been expressed in the record to merit additional Board action to analyze the accuracy of ratings.” Recommendations for possible Board actions included random audits or spot checks analyzing the accuracy and consistency of the ratings being applied.

The Parents Television Council released a statement from its President, Tim Winter, in response to the report, saying that the FCC affirmed “numerous, intrinsic failings of the TV content ratings system that we've been proclaiming for years.”

Winter continued: “The next step in the process for positive change needs to be public hearings, or perhaps a symposium, conducted by Congress or the FCC, that can deliver to parents a reliable and robust content ratings system which reflects the realities of today's entertainment media landscape.”

To read the FCC’s full report, click here.

This story was updated to include comments from the Parents Television Council.