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TV Bloodbath: Violence on Prime Time Broadcast TV

A PTC State of the Television Industry Report

Release Date: 1/18/2002

Executive Summary

aftercolumbineTV Bloodbath is the third in a series of Parents Television Council State of the Industry reports. The PTC examined programming from the first two weeks of the 1998, 2000, and 2002 November sweeps on the six major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN, and the WB) and found that violence increased in every time slot between 1998 and 2002.

In 2002, depictions of violence were 41% more frequent during the 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) Family Hour, and 134.4% more frequent during the 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT) hour than in 1998.

Television violence has become more graphic over time as well, with more frequent use of guns or other weapons, more depictions of blood in violent scenes, and more on-screen killings and depictions of death in 2002 than in 1998.

See Full Report (with graphs and statistical analysis)

Other findings:

  • UPN and Fox had the highest rates for violence during the Family Hour in 2002, with 7.5 and 4.67 instances per hour respectively. ABC had the largest percentage increase, going from .13 instances per hour to 2 instances per hour (an increase of more than 1400%)

  • The WB and CBS had the lowest rates for violence during the Family Hour in 2002, with .11 and .21 instances per hour respectively.

  • CBS and the WB were also the only networks to show any improvement during the Family Hour. CBS reduced Family Hour violence by 73.4% in the Family Hour, going from a per hour rate of .79 instances of violence per hour in 1998 to .21 instances per hour in 2002. The WB network went from 2.5 instances of violence per hour during the Family Hour in 1998 to 2.08 instances per hour in 2000, to .11 instances per hour in 2002. Overall, WB showed a 95.6% decrease in violence from 1998 to 2002. That drop can be attributed almost entirely to the fact that Buffy the Vampire Slayer moved from the WB network to UPN in 2001.

  • Violent content was found to become more frequent as the evening progresses: violence was 149% more frequent during the second hour of prime time than during the Family Hour in 2002.

  • The WB, UPN, and CBS had the highest per-hour rates for violence during the second hour of prime time. On the WB, violence spiked from an average of 1 instance per hour in 1998 to 6.7 instances per hour in 2002 (an increase of 570%). UPN had the largest increase, going from .13 instances per hour in 1998 to 6.6 instances per hour in 2002 (an increase of nearly 5,000%). CBS had the smallest increase, with 5 instances per hour in 1998 and 6.5 instances of violence per hour in 2002 for an increase of 30%. NBC was the only network to improve during the second hour of prime time, going from 3.14 instances of violence per hour in 1998 to 1.33 instances per hour in 2002 for a decrease of 57.6%.

Broadcasters will continue to push the envelope with TV violence as long and as far as they are able. The only way to reverse this trend is for viewers to push back.

TV Sponsors play a significant part in determining what broadcast standards are. Their ability to influence programming decisions is potentially far greater than that of the Federal Communications Commission, TV viewers, or even network's own standards and practices departments. Advertisers must use this unique position of influence to encourage greater restraint in the depictions of violence on prime time broadcast TV.

Although broadcast affiliates are tightly constrained by affiliation agreements, they do still play an important role in standing up for community standards. Community concerns about TV violence must be communicated by the affiliate to the broadcast network, and the affiliates need to exert their right to preempt programming that violates their community's standards.

Lawmakers have been concerned with the problem of media violence almost since the invention of the television. Whereas there are laws on the books making obscene or indecent material on television unlawful, there are no laws prohibiting or restricting depictions of violence on television; leaving Congress with little real power real power to force the entertainment industry to address the problem. Perhaps it is time, as Senator Sam Brownback and FCC commissioner Michael Copps suggested earlier this year, for the FCC to make a priority of reducing TV violence and to expand the definition of broadcast indecency to include violence.

Full Report