The Ratings Sham Fails Again: New Study Shows Ratings Systems Don’t Really Work


By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher

Our friends at the Parents Television Council (PTC) do great work exposing the bad on television and even commending the good. We commend them.

They just released a 20-year examination of the effectiveness of the TV content ratings system. Their conclusion is that the ratings have failed and, instead of protecting children, protect Hollywood’s salacious content.

In this massive and well-researched study, PTC shows that the number of primetime appropriate for all audiences “TV-G” programs has decreased from 27 hours in a two week period in 1997 to Zero hours in 2014. It also shows that, from 1997 to 2014, there was a 38 percent decrease in the number of hours networks aired TV-PG programming. Finally, the study shows that the amount and intensity of obscene, sexual and violent programming has increased dramatically.

This is a fascinating study that deserves to be read.

However, as we have pointed out for many, many years, since the late 1980s, the ratings system itself is the cause of the problem.

The rating system can’t be fixed. Why? Because a ratings system will always give Hollywood a license to insert toxic content into more and more of their movies and television programs.

Instead, Hollywood, including the television networks and cable outlets, needs to return to objective standards.

MOVIEGUIDE® and the Christian Film & Television Commission® have been talking about this problem for years. Other media outlets have even picked up on it.

For example, on Feb. 18, 1996, THE NEW YORK TIMES Arts & Leisure cover article talked about “The Ratings Games at the Cineplex” and how R-rated movies attracted children as young as 10-years-old, and how easily they were admitted into their local movie theater. In fact, many research studies have shown that it is children who go to R-rated movies (80 percent of the audience for R-rated movies are youths, with 60 percent under 17-years-old, while more mature moviegoers prefer PG and G fare like CINDERELLA, FROZEN and MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN). Quite often, the entertainment industry actually uses the R rating to attract susceptible teenagers.

The next day after THE NEW YORK TIMES revealed this dirty little secret, it ran an editorial (Feb. 19, 1996) calling for the networks to rate television programs for the V-chip. Buried in the editorial was the admission that the ratings “might encourage more adventurous programs from producers freed from the need to please the tastes of the broadest possible audience.”

Of course, this is exactly what happened (as PTC’s new study has proven), and it is children, not adults, who are attracted to more “adventurous” fare overflowing with perverse obscenity, sex and ultra-violence.

It’s important to note that the TV ratings system, just like the movie ratings system that started in the late 1960s, has marked the death knell of network or broadcast television. For example, the Number One rated show in 1998, SEINFELD, averaged slightly more than 38 million viewers, but the Number One rated show last season, THE BIG BANG THEORY, averaged slightly more than 19 million viewers, a drop of 50 percent.

Thus, the answer to the negative effects of media sex and violence is not ratings but objective standards – a proactive code of ethics that will guide television producers and others in the entertainment industry. All other professions hold to a code of ethics; so should the entertainment industry.

Pollution, even mind pollution, is best controlled at its source. Rating the water supply toxic is not the solution. Cleaning it up is. The same is true of the movie and television industries.