It’s Time for One Basic Cable Network to Move

If you’re a cable TV subscriber, you can pick up your TV remote and with the click of a button watch just about anything – the good, bad, and the downright ugly.

This modern convenience comes with a price. When all kinds of TV content is so easily accessible for adults, it’s just as easy for kids to stumble upon the same content.

That’s why one basic cable network – the FX Network – needs to be kicked off the basic tier and moved onto the premium cable tier next to HBO, Cinemax and Showtime.

This 21st Century-Fox-owned basic cable network airs increasingly pornographic material, explicit violence, and graphic sexual content. Case in point: A recent scene on American Horror Story showed the use of a “drill-bit dildo.”

Newcomer The Bastard Executioner routinely revels in showing scenes of murder and mutilation.

The FX program Archer includes explicit animated content, which is inherently attractive to children.

Matt Thompson, the creator of Archer, was recently quoted touting the pornography on his show, saying, “Us getting away with the amount of sex we got away with in that episode where Archer is having sex with Lana from behind, and Lana’s breasts are jiggling all over, was great…I thought, ‘Yeah! It’s cartoon porn! F**k off! It’s great!’ I hope it’s cartoon porn. If you can get away with it, do it.”

Even TV critics have noticed the uptick in explicit content on the network. “Since debuting in 2011, no show has more aggressively dared its audience to turn away lest they witness unspeakable acts of human debasement, sexual perversion, and gratuitous violence,” writes Wired’s Jordan Crucchiola about American Horror Story.

Those are but a few examples of the more horrific FX shows, but with each passing year, FX seems to outdo itself when it comes to pushing the most extreme content into the homes of every cable TV subscriber. Nearly all of its programs require a TV-MA rating, for mature audiences only.

And you’d better believe FX is reveling in the fact that it can get away with pushing HBO-style content into every cable subscriber’s home. FX benefits financially from being tied into the basic cable bundle. It also profits from the revenue it collects from advertisers. It’s a rather lucrative financial situation for FX.

In fact, FX sees HBO as its top competitor, according to comments made earlier this year by FX CEO John Landgraf.

But the problem is that consumers and families are subsidizing the FX Network through their monthly cable bill. It may be less than a dollar per month per subscriber, but when FX collects that fee from every single cable customer, it adds up to almost a billion dollars every year. And that is before a single ad slot is sold to a sponsor.

Families are being forced to pay for the FX Network whether they want it or watch it, and even if they’ve blocked it on their cable set-top box. This forced extortion must end.

FX should truly compete with HBO by becoming a premium cable network where subscribers can “opt in” and pay an additional fee if they so choose. At the very least, this would prevent children from having access to scenes including a “drill-bit dildo” at the click of a button.

Some critics of this idea might say that families can just “change the channel,” which puts all the responsibility for the content FX produces squarely on parents. But that is simply an excuse, a perfect cover-up for a multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry that seeks to influence the culture, but rejects any responsibility for protecting children. It is inherently unfair to force someone to buy something they don’t want, don’t watch, or finds harmful. And it’s unfair to force families to subsidize the explicit FX Network.

Increasingly explicit TV content was once provided only on premium network tiers, but this has become the nightly norm on basic and the expanded basic cable tier. This is particularly true for programmers that are owned or controlled by several of the industry behemoths: Comcast/NBC-Universal; Walt Disney/ABC; 21st Century Fox/News Corporation; Viacom/CBS; Time Warner; A&E Networks; and Discovery Communications. These companies exert their substantial leverage to force carriage of their networks, which has led to the 500-plus cable channel universe.

And aside from networks that program specifically for small children, there is a dearth of basic and expanded-basic programming that is rated TV-G or TV-PG. Content rated TV-14 has taken on greater degrees of adult-oriented descriptions, depictions, and themes than ever before.

Moving FX to a premium tier will help alleviate some of these concerns. Those who want explicit FX content can subscribe to it, and families won’t be forced to underwrite it. FX, it’s time to start packing your bags.

A former MGM and NBC Executive, Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.parentstv.org)


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