December 15, 2005
Family Friendly Cable Packages

In a recent post, I discussed the recent moves toward pay-per-channel at the FCC, driven, among other things, by a conservative push toward greater regulation on what programs are coming into people's homes.

Continuing in this strain is the move toward "family friendly" tiers of programming. The FCC has been pressuring cable companies to provide packages of programming that would be more acceptable to family viewers, although cable programmers have tried to resist such governmental pressure.

Now, Comcast and Time-Warner are considering creating these packages which offer no channels that show "risque programming," while Cox and Insight are pondering doing the same, according to a Monday article in the Wall Street Journal by Joe Flint, Peter Grant, and Amy Schatz.

In the meantime, The Benton Foundation continues to follow this story closely and has a lot of details as to various articles and reactions published on the matter.

On the one hand, I agree with consumer power and see great benefit in letting the consumer have choices about what comes into their home. I think, if people want to just watch i, let them have i.

On the other hand, this raises some important questions. Who defines what is a "family-friendly" channel? Once you become a "family-friendly" channel, how closely are you monitored for content? Such questions might cause a network like Lifetime to shy away from doing pieces like their recent movie on the international human sex trade, for instance, in fears that they might lose standing as a "family-friendly" network. When the government becomes involved and outside forces start getting to make regulatory decisions like this, we might be opening television up to a whole new form of censorship, in which everyone is afraid to tackle any serious issue because...well...the real world isn't always "family-friendly."

My concern here isn't with the cable providers, who should listen to demand and do as they please, as long as it's legal. If these companies want to offer such a package to families, etc., it is their perrogative.

My concern here is a governmental power that is trying to put pressure on these companies to "voluntarily" provide these family-friendly packages. After all, something was invented long ago that can help people avoid watching television programming that offends them--the remote control.

To my colleagues and to the readers--what's the danger here? How could this limit all of the progress currently being made toward transmedia storytelling, toward more complex television, toward product placement, even? Are we going to end up with television deals like many European countries and Canada, where we allow the government to push for further and further censoring power over violence, etc.? And what are the dangers, then, to free speech? Am I reading too much into this, or could this be a major turning point in television, depending on what happens?


On December 29, 2005 at 1:39 PM, Sam Ford said:

And the movement has already begun. Time Warner and Comcast are the first two major cable providers who have moved in the direction of offering a family package. According to Joe Flint with the Wall Street Journal from an article in last Friday's paper, Comcast will be taking Time Warner's package even further, including Nickelodeon and Trinity Broadcasting, the most famous Christian religious network in America. Guess there's no question that the packages are being marketed for the organized conservative Christian contingent...