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Ad Council unveils V-Chip campaign

Ads aim to show parents that they can control kids' exposure to sex, violence on TV via decade-old tech.

The Ad Council is embarking on a $300-million mission to inject the controversial V-Chip technology back into the public consciousness.

A series of public-service announcements sponsored by the council and rolled out Wednesday is meant to create awareness of the V-Chip, software that lets parents block violent or sexual content on television. The V-Chip is required in all televisions 13 inches or larger per the 1996 Telecommunications Act, though critics have long decried the program for ineffectiveness.

Two TV spots can be viewed on the campaign's Web site, In one, a mom explains to a generic trio of mobsters--an allusion, presumably, to "The Sopranos"--why their tactics are too violent for her kids. In another, a dad tells a forlorn drug addict that though he himself is a big fan of the show the addict appears on, it's not appropriate for his children and he'll have to block it. Eighteen months' worth of print, radio, TV and Web ad space for the PSAs was donated by various media outlets.

According to research by the Ad Council, 70 percent to 80 percent of parents have "serious concerns" about programming inappropriate for their children, though V-Chip usage has never been that high. A 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that only 15 percent of parents had ever used the V-Chip in their TV set.

Each ad points viewers back to the campaign's Web site, which assumes little or no knowledge of the ratings system that's been around for a decade. The site features detailed instructions about interpreting and using the V-Chip ratings system, and suggested guidelines for creating and enforcing television-watching rules at home. Tips are also included for how to set parental controls on cable set-top boxes and satellite services.

"For the first time, parents have total power to control all TV programming in their home. Through TV, cable and satellite blocking mechanisms, parents can become the TV Boss in their homes," Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. On Thursday, Valenti will speak about the campaign before the Senate Commerce committee.

The multimedia effort has the support of the MPAA; the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; the National Association of Broadcasters; the Consumer Electronics Association; broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox; and satellite providers DirecTV and EchoStar Communications.

The Parents Television Council, vociferous in the past in its opposition to the V-Chip, declined to comment Wednesday. But in April, Executive Director Tim Winters told CNET that he believes parents don't use the ratings because they are inaccurate.

"What I see is a solution that's flawed at every level. Conceptually, it's not bad, but practically, it's abhorrent," he said.

Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, another nonprofit family media organization, agrees that most people don't use the ratings system, but he thinks it's a step in the right direction.

"Generally anything that gives parents and consumers more information about how to control the media (that their children use) is good," he said.

Still, he says more needs to be done. "It's positive that the industry is doing it, but it's not a panacea."