CABLE JOINS RATINGS GAME

Key basic-tier outfits climb aboard new advisory system

Several basic cable TV networks have plugged in the content ratings system that calls for 15-second advisories in the upper left-hand corner of the screen before half-hour programs and additionally at the midway point of hour series/specials and movies.

Lifetime, the USA Network, A&E and Time Warner-Turner networks TBS, TNT, TCM and Cartoon Network are among the group that had the ratings setup in place shortly after the Jan. 1 kickoff, when the four major broadcast networks went online with the process of rating all of their shows and films (aside from news and sports programming).

The scale ranges from TV-G (general audiences) to TV-PG (parental guidance suggested), TV-14 (“May be inappropriate for children under 14”) and TV-M (mature audiences only).

A majority of those cablers that have yet to institute the system plan to implement it by month’s end, including MTV, Nickelodeon, F/X and Comedy Central.

Assessing the angles

Others, including E! Entertainment Television and Bravo, are looking into ways to make the rating system work for their program lineups. A Bravo spokeswoman said, however, that it “isn’t much of an issue for us” given that its films, already edited for TV, have MPAA ratings attached as it is.

“It’s also difficult to figure out how to rate a performing arts program,” she added.

Pat Guy, senior VP of legal and business affairs and general counsel for Lifetime and a member of the executive committee that helped mold the current system last year, said that it is his understanding that most cable networks are working to get the system in gear as soon as possible.

“There might have been some misunderstanding about needing to have it going by Jan. 1, but that was never the case for cable,” Guy said.

As for individual ratings, USA tags its original hour “Silk Stalkings” with a TV-14. The rest of its lineup is either G or PG, with each show in its Sunday morning kids’ lineup getting a Y-7 (may not be appropriate for children under age 7).

On Comedy Central, the less-risque syndicated version of “Dream On” will earn a TV-14 rating once the network gets the system going. The outrageous cult British comedy import “Absolutely Fabulous” also will get the TV-14 label, along with some episodes of “Kids in the Hall” and “Saturday Night Live.”

“I haven’t talked to one client who cares a bit about what a show is rated,” one analyst said. “It’s entirely a non-issue. And unless a show gets one of those ‘M’ ratings attached to it, I don’t think it will ever matter much to sponsors.”

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