Cable chip bloc awaits webs’ vote

Cable TV titans are mulling rating all programs for violence, and have tacitly endorsed a bill offered by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would require a microchip in new TV sets to allow parents to block out programs rated violent.

Industry sources said cable’s endorsement of the two proposals is conditional on a guarantee that the broadcast networks also back the ideas. That’s hardly a given, since the networks have been cool to suggestions for both the rating and the microchip.

Although it’s believed top cable executives are united behind the idea of rating programs, Time Warner has yet to signal its support for Markey’s so-called V-chip bill, an industry source said.

On the defensive

Cable’s new aggressive anti-violence stance clearly places the networks on the defensive. For months, webheads have been ahead in the PR battle by repeatedly claiming that the most violent programming airs on cable. Moreover, net executives claim the cable industry continues to carry its most violent programming early in the evening, and unedited.

A network source said Tuesday that the webs “still haven’t seen anything in writing” on the cable proposal. “We’re waiting for details,” the source said.

Cable’s strategy change came after a meeting Friday between industry leaders and Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), a leader of the growing anti-TV violence brigade in Congress. Initial reports indicated that cablers told Simon they’d be willing to establish ongoing monitoring of the violence content of programs.

Step further

But industry sources said cablers also have decided to go further than simply the monitoring of programs. They’ve also agreed to slap a rating on programs for violence, the key ingredient needed for Markey’s V-chip plan to be successful.

“The V-chip only needs a rating system to make it work,” one industry source said.

Markey’s bill calls for insertion of a one-inch microchip in all new TV sets that allows parents, with the push of a button, to nix all programs carrying a violence rating. Markey claims the V-chip will “empower parents.”

CBS and NBC have attacked the proposal as a step toward censorship. ABC has been less critical of the Markey proposal than its counterparts but has said it opposes content restrictions in general. The Motion Picture Assn. of America also opposes the Markey bill and is not expected to change its position.

Sources said discussions are in the preliminary stage on how a ratings system might work, in part because network acceptance of the idea is necessary before the plan will proceed. One suggestion would place a V rating on certain violent shows, and a VV rating on programs carrying excessive amounts of violence.

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