PTC Pulls Punches
Indecency watchdogs share poll questions with FCC, not press
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/25/2007 8:00:00 PM
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Karmazin Gets Sirius On Content Control
The broadcast and cable industries can expect to take at least a couple more shots from the Parents Television Council in the coming weeks, according to a copy of a PTC-commissioned poll obtained by B&C.
In a press conference two weeks ago, PTC attacked the media, calling the nine-month-old “TV Boss” V-chip/ratings-education campaign a failure and touting three questions it had asked about use of the blocking technology. But it failed to share with reporters the results of two other questions that suggested the respondents wanted à la carte cable and to pull the licenses from “indecent” broadcasters. PTC did share them with staffers at the FCC, however, which has proved an ally in PTC's war on smut.
Why then did PTC choose not to disclose to the press information that plainly supports its stance on content control?
Dan Isett, PTC's director of corporate and government affairs, says that was because the three questions it did release were aimed directly at the TV Boss campaign. The remaining ones will be publicized over the coming weeks.
According to one of the two missing questions, 81% of respondents said they should not be “forced” to pay for channels they don't want just to get access to programming they do want.
That certainly would have added ammunition to PTC President Tim Winter's assertion at the press conference two weeks ago that it was time to “give parents and families the ultimate in parental control and let them select and pay for only the cable networks they want coming into their homes.”
It will almost certainly be used by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to buttress his case for à la carte. Isett says the reason the FCC got to look at all the questions was that Martin had been asked to participate in the press conference announcing the results. He did not participate.
An FCC official, who asked not to be named, said the commission had not requested the poll information but was “pleased to get it”—no doubt because Martin has been telling everyone from Capitol Hill to Madison Avenue that cable and other pay media should be offering their programming à la carte.
Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin appears to have been listening (see below).
What was the other question PTC is holding in reserve? When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that television stations that repeatedly ignore the broadcast decency law should lose their licenses to broadcast over the public airwaves?,” 68% said yes.
Expect PTC to make some hay out of that one. Says Isett, “There is going to be plenty of opportunity to talk about the things we asked about in the future.”
Karmazin Gets Sirius On Content Control
Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin promised last week that, if the FCC, Federal Trade Commission and Congress allow his satellite-radio company to merge with rival XM, he would not only allow subscribers to block adult-oriented channels like Playboy Radio—and presumably Washington bete noir Howard Stern's show—but would also give a rebate on the channels they blocked.
Karmazin called it a more “à la carte” approach, which no doubt brought a smile to the face of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.
Martin says Karmazin's proposal “sounded, in general, like a good idea,” with the caveat that he has yet to study it. “One of the options I have encouraged,” he says, “is allowing parents to block channels and also [have] the companies reimburse the price they are charging consumers for content they don't want. I think that a block and reimburse mechanism may be a good idea.”
Parents Television Council Government Affairs Director Dan Isett called it “a significant step in the right direction. You finally have a major media outlet recognizing the reality about some of these subscription-based platforms.”
Word of the block-and-rebate proposal, contained in Sirius and XM's official merger filing, came in response to questions from content critics, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), whose bill upped indecency fines tenfold on broadcasters.
Given Karmazin's history of bristling at content regulation since his days defending Stern at Infinity Broadcasting, the à la carte concession is clearly meant to make the Sirius/XM deal more FCC-friendly.
But Karmazin was not exactly “Yes, sir!” and “How high?” in his third trip to the Hill in as many weeks. He flatly refused to adopt broadcast-style indecency regulations or safe harbors on his pay service.
When Brownback asked whether he would agree not to carry “pornographic” material, Karmazin said no, adding that he does not know how the senator defines pornography.
And although he stated that he is not interested in airing obscenities, the Sirius chief maintained that he is a strong defender of the First Amendment.
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