We know that children are influenced by what they see on TV and in the movies. Sometimes this is for the good; but reality – and scientific research – proves that children can be negatively influenced, even harmed, by the media they consume.
Parents have never had a more difficult job when it comes to protecting their children from harmful media influences. The entertainment industry is all too eager to capitalize on getting children hooked on its products. Even with the most diligent parental oversight, the industry has exceptional power and leverage to influence our children.
But while the industry continues to produce and distribute entertainment content, it continues to wave off any responsibility for harmful effects that content can have on children. That is the very height of corporate malfeasance and hypocrisy.
As the Parents Television Council begins the New Year, we’re calling on the entertainment industry to make some changes. Our mission is to protect children and our vision is for a safe and sound entertainment media landscape for children and families – and we believe the entertainment industry must change in these specific five ways to better serve families:
1) Entertainment Industry Must Change Inaccurate Marketing of Violent Media Content to Kids
In response to the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., the Trump Administration recently released a Department of Education report that recommended, among other things, addressing the violent entertainment media culture:
“While some self-regulators provide easy-to-understand rating systems and effectively restrict content through retailer requirements, all of them should review and improve policies to ensure access to content is limited to age-appropriate consumers.”
In March of 2018, the PTC met with President Trump, a few Congressional leaders, and members of the entertainment industry in the White House to discuss violent media content; and we urged these leaders to change how violent media is marketed to children. The entertainment industry executives in attendance were, as usual, in denial of reality and resistant to any positive change.
The PTC is calling for a comprehensive review and wholesale reform to ensure that the various age-based content ratings systems are accurate, consistent, transparent, and publicly accountable to those whom the ratings systems are intended to serve: parents.
Unfortunately, the current ratings systems are none of those things, and our own research, along with outside research, shows how these ratings systems allow kids to have access to some of the most violent, and sexually explicit media content available.
The entertainment industry must cease to protect the status quo, which favors their own financial interests ahead of the interests of children and families, and work to ensure that the Ratings Systems are reformed.
2) Streaming Services Must Stop Marketing Harmful Content to Children (Here’s Looking at You, Netflix)
Streaming TV continues to grow and become more competitive – particularly when it comes to courting families. When Disney+ arrives in 2019, families are sure to flock to that service. But the larger question remains – how many streaming services will families pay for? The largest of them all, Netflix, isn’t taking any chances and continues to add original titles to its already expansive programming catalogue.
But what Netflix seems to miss (or ignore) in its competitive world of streaming video on demand is that many families have already been turned off by the company’s callous attitude towards its programs marketed to children that have been proven to show harm.
Our hope for 2019 is that Netflix ceases to market and distribute content proven to be harmful to children, like the suicide drama “13 Reasons Why”; that Netflix ceases to exhibit programming that grotesquely sexualizes children, as the cartoon “Big Mouth” does; and that Netflix ceases to distribute content that borders on child pornography, as the film “Desire” does.
Netflix – and any other streaming service – would do well to ensure that kids are protected as these services continue to develop and grow.
3) Entertainment Industry Must Embrace Real Cable Choice
Cable TV continues to lose video subscribers at an alarming rate, and it is primarily due to subscribers growing weary of paying exorbitant prices for bundles of programming they don’t want. Concurrently, Cable TV raises consumers’ cable bills in an effort to shore up their corporate cash flow. Such a myopic view has now forced Cable TV either to adapt or face the prospect of becoming extinct.
The industry’s initial response was to offer “skinny bundles” to consumers, delivering fewer networks in a bundle for a reduced monthly price. But this so-called remedy is really a distinction without a difference. It still prevents the customer from picking – and paying for – just the products he or she wants, perpetuating the industry’s failure to meet consumer demands.
For years the PTC has advocated for the industry to embrace “a la carte” Cable Choice, where consumers choose and pay for only the networks they want to watch. The stubborn reluctance to provide true choice to consumers has led the cable industry to the brink of its own irrelevance. If Cable TV wants to survive in a world of streaming video on demand, true consumer Cable Choice has never been more timely.
Studies have also shown that families are seeking an “a la carte” Cable Choice solution not just because they are tired of paying for more than they watch, but also to keep harmful content from reaching their children. Now is the year to make this happen.
4) Entertainment Industry Must Stop Opposition to Filtering Technology
If Hollywood has its way, families may never be able to access filtering technology that allows them to be able to watch mainstream movies and television programming without any of the nudity, profanity or violence. Instead, parents will have to resort to quickly trying to cover their child’s eyes and ears when unexpected explicit content is shown during a movie or TV show. (Nearly impossible and frankly, just plain impractical!)
Congress recently had an opportunity to fix this by passing an amendment to the Family Movie Act. This amendment would allow parents to filter out explicit content when they stream movies and TV shows via Netflix, Amazon, or other bona fide streaming services. But Hollywood effectively killed this opportunity in the last session of Congress.
The Hollywood studios have cleverly but dishonestly painted filtering technology as a tool of copyright piracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The technology, and the legislation that would authorize its use, simply allows a consumer in his or her own home to choose the specific types of explicit content to be skipped while he or she watches. Filtering would also be a financial boon to Hollywood, as parents who would pay for content that they currently eschew. Filtering helps parents; and filtering would increase revenue for Hollywood. It’s a win-win.
Hollywood must stop its opposition to such a common-sense solution for families. If they won’t do it, then Congress must put families first by re-introducing this Family Movie Act amendment and passing it this year.
5) TV Not Only Needs a #MeToo Moment, it Needs to Prioritize #OurKidsToo
Hollywood professes its support for #MeToo, yet every single night it airs programming that asks us to laugh at, and be entertained by, the very wretched conduct that triggered #MeToo. The sexually explicit, degrading, misogynistic, and demeaning program content frequently includes children in the scene.
TV needs a #MeToo moment.
We believe there is an urgent need for Hollywood to recognize #OurKidsToo – where parents don’t have to worry whether or not a TV program is rated accurately; where children will not be targeted by Hollywood execs eager to introduce them to age-inappropriate content and issues; or where families will not be forced to pay for sexually-explicit or graphically violent content on certain networks in order to access networks that provide kid-friendly and family-friendly programming.
Recognizing #OurKidsToo also means that Hollywood should improve how it portrays girls and young women. The PTC’s “4 Every Girl’ Campaign advocates for healthier media images of females and will continue to do so.