To S, V, L and D, add N for nonevent.
Media buyers at advertising agencies said Thursday that new program ratings labeling shows for sex, violence, foul language and suggestive dialogue aren't likely to scare many sponsors of successful television shows.
Most big national advertisers already screen TV shows for sex and violence before each episode airs and avoid shows they consider unacceptable. These advertisers have stricter standards than the networks, media buyers said.
"You have to remember that these ratings are being done by the networks themselves," said William P. Croasdale, president of network broadcast buying at Western International Media in Los Angeles. "I don't think the ratings will have any impact on the advertising community because our clients are more stringent on how they classify shows and would never go into shows rated R or something of that nature."
Media buyers said some advertisers might temporarily drop shows with S or V ratings when the labels are introduced in October to avoid any adverse publicity associated with the start of the new system. But few sponsors would permanently abandon shows that attract large audiences, they said.
Advertisers of age-sensitive products--such as beer--might even welcome the content ratings, some media buyers said. Advertisers could point to adult-oriented labels as proof they aren't targeting underage drinkers.
The only shows that stand to lose advertisers permanently are children's programs labeled FV for fantasy violence, media buyers said. But advertising experts pointed out that only one-third of households have children, and some networks, notably NBC, have moved away from children's programming altogether.
The ratings were formally announced Thursday after months of negotiation. The labels will be used to supplement the current system that rates shows as being suitable for children, teenagers and adults. Consumer activists had argued that the age-based system is inadequate.
Media buyers said the experience of ABC's "NYPD Blue" suggests how sponsors will react to the content ratings system. Advertisers initially shunned the show, which premiered in 1993, with a precedent-setting warning about nudity, language or violence. When the furor died down, advertisers gravitated to the show because of its critical acclaim and high viewership.
The labels might depress the cost of advertising in shows with S or V--just as the warning lowered costs of commercials appearing in "NYPD Blue." Gene DeWitt of DeWitt Media in New York said the labels might create an opportunity for sponsors unconcerned with them. Drug companies, which primarily target adults, might seek bargains by advertising in S- or V-labeled shows, he said.
There is no upside when it comes to children's programming, media buyers said. Big national advertisers, such as cereal and candy companies, were expected to steer clear of shows with an FV label--a term that remained undefined Thursday.
Walter Staab, chairman of SFM Media in New York, said an FV label--if liberally applied--could eventually affect toy companies that sell boys' action figures featured in kids' TV shows.
"One thing feeds off another," he said. "If this thing had some teeth in it and the TV stations found it hard to clear some of the shows with fantasy violence labels, the impact trickles down to the toy itself. . . . Action figures are dead without TV support. The programs are full-length commercials for the toys."
Media buyers were skeptical that the networks would attach FV to many children's shows--though most cartoons involve some form of fantasy violence.
"It's hard to believe they will label every Bugs Bunny cartoon," said Irene Gazis-Castellano, associate media director at Griffin Bacal advertising in New York, whose clients include Hasbro.
Gazis-Castellano said the biggest issue is how parents will react to an FV label. If parents keep their children from watching a show, its ratings will go down and advertisers will bail out.
Of the major networks and cable channels, only NBC has refused to adopt the new labeling system. NBC said it would issue its own cautionary messages to viewers.
Some media buyers speculated that advertisers skittish about labels might gravitate to NBC, a unit of General Electric Co. But as the network with the strongest programming schedule, NBC is sought after by advertisers, anyway.
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