Fine-tuning TV for kids (1 Viewer)

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Insight to plug in a family-friendly cable package

Would people be willing to buy a special family-friendly cable package that would keep MTV or other objectionable channels off their TV sets?

"I think it would be a good idea to have that option," said Angel Renick, a Pewee Valley mother of three young children.

"Yes, I would consider doing something like that so I could keep things out," said Rachel Schrepferman, another Louisville mom with 6-year-old twin sons.

Lisa Martel, a Louisville resident and schoolteacher with daughters ages15 and 17, said she would have been interested a few years ago when her children were younger. But, "I have a niece and a nephew, 11 and 9, and that's the kind of thing their mom would love."

Anyone who thinks a family package is a good idea will have a chance to buy one from Insight cable this summer.

The family tier will cost $13 a month for 15 channels. Subscribers also will need to rent a digital box for $7.95 a month if they don't have one. In addition, people have to subscribe to the basic entry lineup of 23 channels for $14.48 to gain access to the family package. That would bring the total to $35.43 plus taxes.

Why not add the family channels to the basic lineup instead of making families rent a digital box?

"Most of these channels are delivered through compressed digital networks (to Insight), and you can't uncompress them without a box," said Michael Willner, president and CEO of Insight Communications in a phone interview from New York.

Other cable systems around the country as well as Dish and DirecTV satellite also are offering similar family packages. Willner says it's the "responsible thing to do."

Companies are offering it not so much to make money but to head off moves by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to impose decency regulations on cable systems.

"There are things on television that even I believe are unseemly and not appropriate for young viewers," said Willner. "This is just one tool in a tool chest full of tools for parents."

The channels in the family package were chosen with children in mind but designed to also offer family programming that adults might want such as news and how-to channels. It does not duplicate channels on the basic lineup.

Why no Nickelodeon?

"Nickelodeon does have a few programs, particularly in the evening, that might not qualify for family viewing," Willner explained. Also, contracts with some other channels prohibit Insight from including them in packages, he said, noting that channels could be added and subtracted over time.

Parents who don't want to pay extra for the family package can still keep unwanted programming out of their homes. Willner emphasized that individual shows and channels can be blocked out just by going in and pushing three or four buttons on the digital remote. (See accompanying instructions.)

If a subscriber doesn't have a digital box or a newer TV set that includes a V-Chip, which can decipher program and movie ratings, Insight will block any channel or rating from the cable packages a subscriber receives for free.

"Every customer has the ability to keep any program or channel out of their home," Willner said, adding that he blocked out channels and programs when his now-grown children were younger. "That's the first line of defense," he insisted.

Martel knows about the parental-control feature and likes it.

"We have locked out programs rated adult and didn't find it difficult to do," she said. Even though she now lets her teenage daughters watch MTV channels, "there is some X-rated stuff that comes on late at night that we have blocked," she said.

Renick has three children younger than 6 and is concerned about what they watch. "I don't want them to see anything that's not appropriate for their age. … I don't want them hearing bad language or seeing violence or sexual innuendo," she said.

Sometimes it's not just programs but promotions for shows and movies that irritate her.

"I saw this commercial for a new show (where) this young girl, 12 or 13, was asking her mom if she 'did it' and if she 'did it,' where did she 'do it,' and I was very offended," said Renick.

That incident reveals a flaw in the cable family package system that the government inadvertently causes. The show to which Renick was referring, "Sons & Daughters," is on ABC, one of the big broadcast networks, which comes into people's houses because it is on the basic lineup that a subscriber has to take in order to get the family package.

So Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" marches right in with Pamela Anderson's "Stacked" on Fox. Parents could block out Fox, but then "American Idol" gets zapped too. They also could block shows by title or rating.

People are forced to take the broadcast networks as part of the basic lineup because the government requires cable systems to carry them. That's done, in part, so that subscribers have access to the local news and weather information. "We have to obey the law," said Willner, acknowledging the hole in the plan.

"There's no way that (anyone) comes up with a (family) tier that in any meaningful way accomplishes what it's supposed to because you have to include the broadcast networks," Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, told trade journal MultiChannel News.

A recent Kaiser Family foundation report supports that belief, with researchers saying it found 70 percent of broadcast network shows include some sexual content.

http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060325/FEATURES07/603250330/-1/rss
 

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