Monday, August 06, 2007

Child Safe Viewing Act and the Super V-Chip

With the US Senate Commerce Committee 's approval of the Child Safe Viewing Act last week, the FCC will now have to investigate the feasibility of a multi-media V-chip (being dubbed "Super V-Chip") that does not interfere with existing content provider packaging and pricing schemes. This announcement is actually kind of rife, because it takes sides in an ongoing debate about how to best facilitate parental (as opposed to governmental) regulation of their kids media exposure. The "Super V-Chip" has been proposed as an alternative to the "a la carte" sale of cable networks supported by the current FCC chairman (Kevin Martin) as well as the Parents Television Council. While the Super V-Chip would allow parents to "block" undesirable content across a variety of media formats (incl. TV, cable/satellite receivers, Internet, wireless, etc.) available in the home, the "a la carte" solution would -- at least for television -- allow parents to pick and choose (and only pay for) exactly those networks they want to have available in their homes in the first place.

The solution proposed by Sen. Mark Pryor and the Child Safe Viewing Act represent a sweeping expansion of an existing framework, one whose effectiveness has been quite limited so far. Part of the bill's mandate will be to respond to concerns about the underutilization of the existing V-Chip, which blocks content on TV sets (all TV sets come with this technology already installed). Studies show persistent lack of awareness among parents about how the technology work, while others express frustration with the lack of accuracy and reliability in the accompanying ratings system.

Here's a run-down of the various players' positions, courtesy of Multichannel News:
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark): “It’s an uphill battle for parents trying to protect their kids from viewing inappropriate programming. I believe there is a whole new generation of technology that can provide an additional layer of help for these parents,” Pryor said in a prepared statement. “My bill simply lights a fire under the FCC to take a fresh look at new options in the marketplace.”

FCC chairman Kevin Martin: Supports "a la carte" sale of cable networks as the solution to parental concern about children seeing inappropriate content, putting him at odds with the cable industry’s view that blocking solutions are superior to government interference in the distribution of cable programming.

The Parents Television Council: Backs Martin on the a la carte or “cable choice” issue and does not endorse Pryor’s bill. According to PTC president Tim Winter, “Our desire is that the industry will respond to continued public demand for a safer television environment for children and families by adhering to the decency law on broadcast television and by creating a way for parents to choose and pay for only the cable programming they want.”

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