Earlier this year, when Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" made indecency a hot-button political issue, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) swung into action. Working with cable operators, it put together the Cable Puts You in Control campaign.
This committed multiple-system operators, serving 85% of all cable households, to supply homes with free boxes and tools that would allow them to block channels parents wanted. Operators also aired PSAs, and the NCTA set up a Web site (www.controltv.org) designed to educate parents.
"We also provided operators with customer toolkits" that included templates for creating brochures and local PSAs, says Rob Stoddard, senior vice president of communications and public affairs at the NCTA.
Cable operators had, in fact, been promoting media-literacy programs designed to help parents block sexually explicit or violent programming for quite some time. But the incident—and the industry's quick response—illustrates how the NCTA's lobbying efforts frequently translate into initiatives designed to improve the industry's image on Capital Hill and among regulators, particularly the FCC.
"It is critical that we are in a position to show the FCC, Congress and the White House the industry's commitment to the communities they serve," Stoddard says. Courting favor with consumers, he adds, is also "critical to the success of our businesses in an increasingly competitive environment."
Two major initiatives, Cable in the Classroom and The Walter Kaitz Foundation, are housed at the NCTA. The association's Web sites include an extensive section listing programs created by local operators. The NCTA also works closely with national organizations, such as Cable Positive, the Ad Council, The Cable and Telecommunications Marketing Association, and the Cable Television Public Affairs Association, as well as many state associations.
In addition, it has a public-affairs committee made up of 25 to 30 cable executives. "We spend about 90% of our time communicating [with companies and organizations]," says Stoddard. "We take our role as a clearing house of information very seriously."