Capital Watch


Thumbs Down on Media Ratings

Uncle Sam should pressure media industries to ditch their various self-rating systems and place TV, movies and other electronic media on a uniform system, according to Common Sense Media.

The watchdog group called for a single rating system consistent across all media products. Common Sense found that 83% of parents are unhappy with today's "hodgepodge" of self-monitoring regimes and 65% want an independent group to develop and oversee ratings.

"Parents desperately need trustworthy information about what's in kids media," Jim Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, said during a Federal Trade Commission workshop on media violence last week. "The best solution would give parents easy-to-use information that is unbiased and compatible across all media."

Among those surveyed, 78% believe that such a cross-media system would be better than today's variety of ratings systems, while only 11% think it would be worse and 11% didn't know. Fewer than half of parents reported ever using any system besides movie ratings.

A Parents Television Council study presented at the FTC gathering criticized the broadcast networks for carrying ads for R-rated films and M-rated videogames during programs children are likely to see. PTC said 27% of movie ads during family viewing hours were for R-rated films and 28% of game ads were for M-rated software. "Broadcasters must take a more active role in directing how their advertising inventory is used," said PTC President Brent Bozell.

Hispanic Broadcasters Link Up

Independent Spanish-language broadcasters and networks, and their financiers, have formed a trade group to help them pursue ownership opportunities and capital sources amidst industry consolidation.

The Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association (ISBA) also wants to expand media employment and management opportunities for Latinos. The 13 founding companies own roughly 20 TV and 40 radio stations as well as Spanish-language radio networks.

"I see first-hand the need for us to garner strength as a group for legislative and policy initiative," said founding member Rosamaria Caballero, president of Caballero Television. Representing the group in Washington is former head of the FCC's Office of Communications Business Opportunities Francisco Montero, who said ISBA aims to choose its president, board of directors and a permanent executive director at April's National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Bad Data: Backhaul Brawl Continues

Broadcasters are pleading with the FCC to rethink its decision to move forward with reallocation of some backhaul spectrum. The process took effect Oct. 16 and is aimed at giving new technologies some of the newsgathering spectrum that stations rely on to beam footage from remote locations to their studios.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers argued in an appeal last week that inaccuracies continue to plague a database of receiver sites and it's impossible to predict when new users will create interference. The society says one thing is certain: The new rules "will lead inescapably to a substantial number of instances of interference" to stations' ongoing backhaul service. FCC staffers acknowledge that data remain flawed but insist inaccuracies can be fixed on a case-by-case basis. Broadcasters already received a six-month delay from the original April effective date.

Rebuffing McCain

Northpoint Chair Sophia Collier says few investors stand to benefit if the company wins free spectrum. Collier revealed last week that contracts with individuals planning to construct Northpoint systems expired March 31.

That leaves Collier, principal Katherine Reynolds, and founders Bonnie Newman and Carmen and Saleem Tawil with financial stakes. Collier was responding to Sen. John McCain's Oct. 17 demand for a list of people who would gain from legislation that would cancel a January FCC auction of the spectrum and give it to Northpoint.