Obscenity on ABC, Advertising on PBS, H.R. 6320 – Regulation of Broadband TV on the Horizon?

The inspiration for this article was a decision a few months ago by the FCC to slap a huge fine on ABC Affiliates for violating obscenity rules in airing an episode of “NYPD”.   The FCC Order, although extremely descriptive about the nudity, sparked my curiosity. 

"………The camera shot includes a full view of her buttocks and her upper legs as she leans across the sink to hang up her robe……….."

In years past, I would have been in the dark. Thanks to the power of Internet video, however, I was able to find a copy of the video within 30 seconds and view for myself what the FCC considered obscene.  The image below is a screen capture of one of the tamer shots.   Click here to see the video - assuming it hasn't been removed.  In my opinion, it crosses the line 

You can see the video by clicking on this link (assuming that ABC doesn’t make YouTube remove it).      

The point is, what was obscene on broadcast television does not violate FCC rules on broadband television; at least yet. This skirting of broadcast television rules could be the biggest impact that broadband TV has on the future of television, as this provides a new medium for the broadcast networks to create derivative products (e.g. an even coarser version of the “Family Guy”). Things like limits on advertising to children, hard liquor advertisements, the fairness doctrine, nudity and swearing are beyond the FCC’s current scope for regulating video over the Internet. 

Another piece of evidence that the television business model and rules are changing is Hulu’s deal with PBS to put advertisements in front of its programming [thanks Viodi View reader, Peggy for pointing this out).   This would have been a huge deal 20 years ago, when PBS was available only in a broadcast medium.

Where it will get interesting is when politicians start hearing complaints from constituents about “FCC rule violations.” Of course, the FCC won’t have rules (although they will probably try to figure out how to expand their powers) and Congress will get involved and it will get real political. Knowing how long it generally takes the Federal Government to act, this sort of political uproar may still be a long ways out (it took 5 years for the FCC to rule on the aforementioned NYPD obscenity case). 

Just as I was about to publish this article I saw today’s issue of the OPASTCO 411, which summarized the Markey Bill ( H.R. 6320).  This Bill is an indication that the future may be closer than I thought.  H.R. 6320 calls for captioning and providing emergency alert info for video over the net, as well as adding requirements for other IP devices. Clearly, this is a grab to regulate the Internet and it probably will not be successful in this election year, but it is start of what could be a very long and interesting fight.    

To avoid future legislation, the Broadband TV industry should adhere to current broadcast rules as much as possible and, as needed, set new guidelines.   This may require the various industry players to reach across ecosystems and proactively work together. 

0 thoughts on “Obscenity on ABC, Advertising on PBS, H.R. 6320 – Regulation of Broadband TV on the Horizon?

  1. So, the Supreme Court decided and it seems that the FCC wasn’t clear enough in its rules at to what is obscene:

    http://entertainment.time.com/2012/06/22/the-supreme-courts-fcc-ruling-a-decision-but-no-f-ing-closure/

    Chairman Genachowski said in a statement,

    “…Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers.”

    http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2012/db0621/DOC-314771A1.txt

    Some questions arise:

    The first question is does obscenity on TV really matter anymore since so many kids are watching cable channels (e.g. AMC’s Season Finale of Mad Men had rear nudity of one of its main characters) and more and more are watching/interacting with various online outlets(where the text commentary around a video can be much more obscene than anything found on TV)?

    The next question is will some groups make the argument that the online should be regulated in a similar manner, given that much of that content is transmitted via “public airwaves” (via WiFi)?

    http://www.frc.org/newsroom/frc-expects-us-supreme-court-to-uphold-future-fines-against-tv-indecency

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