WASHINGTON — Almost half of the new television sets in the United States will be equipped with a V-chip by July 1, and manufacturers are on track to meet a year-end deadline for including the blocking device in all new sets, federal officials said Wednesday.
The V-chip is designed to allow parents to black out shows that they find objectionable. The industry rates programs on content and suitability for age.
"After years of being talked about as if it were real, the V-chip is actually about to become a reality for all Americans," Federal Communications Commission member Gloria Tristani said at a news conference.
The announcement comes amid increased scrutiny of the entertainment industry in Washington in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre that took 15 lives, including the two gunmen, in Colorado in April. President Clinton last week launched an inquiry into the marketing of violent movies, music and video games.
The Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Assn. reported that the leading television manufacturers--accounting for 90% of all sets sold in the nation--will meet or beat the July deadline for installing V-chips in 50% of their sets and a Jan. 1, 2000, deadline for placing the chips in all their new sets.
Tristani said she is "fully confident" that the remaining companies also will comply with the requirement, which applies only to sets with screens that are 13 inches or larger.
Flanked by representatives of major television manufacturers, Tristani said to those who maintain there is little consumer demand for the V-chip: "Let's give the V-chip a chance before we rush to any judgment about what parents do or do not want."
A campaign is planned to alert parents to availability of the V-chip and to explain how the device will operate, officials said. The manufacturing association said that it is designing a sticker and logo that will alert consumers to which sets are equipped with the chips. Whether the V-chip will increase the price of television sets will depend on the manufacturer, an association spokeswoman said.
FCC Chairman William E. Kennard said that the Colorado tragedy boosted his resolve to support the V-chip initiative. "[The shootings] focused a lot of attention on the V-chip, and we realized that it's imperative that this tool work for the American public," Kennard said.
He added that the V-chip can be an important element in changing the culture of how people view television when coupled with an aggressive advertising campaign similar to those waged over smoking, drugs and drunk driving.