PTC: "Cartoons are no laughing matter"


The Parents Television Council has just released a new study, “Cartoons Are No Laughing Matter,” documenting high levels of adult content on networks with primetime animated cable shows among children ages 12-17. They include: Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nick at Nite.

PTC used Nielsen data to identify networks with the highest-rated primetime animated cable shows for ages 12-17. Based on the findings, PTC examined 123 episodes of animated programming that aired on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nick at Nite for the presence of sexual content, violence, drugs and explicit language between 3/21 and 4/14 of this year.

PTC research analysts documented 1,487 incidents of explicit language, drugs and sexual content during the four-week study period. On average, young viewers were exposed to adult content once every two minutes and 19 seconds. TV-PG rated animation featured sex, drugs or profanity every two minutes and 31 seconds. Adult Swim, which begins at 9:00 pm ET (8:00 pm CT), included some of the highest-rated animated shows among ages 12-17 and the highest levels of explicit content.

Among the findings:
-Today’s norm is profanity-laden storylines involving everything from rape and cocaine to STDs and crystal meth.
-There is now more sexual content on these cartoons than violence.
-85% of the TV-PG shows and 64% of the TV-14 shows containing sexual content did not have an “S” descriptor in the rating to warn parents.
-TV-PG and TV-14 shows included advertisements for adult media such as TV-MA DVDs, TV-MA shows, and R-rated movies.

Said PTC President Tim Winter: “Adult content isn’t just creeping into the cartoons that kids today are watching the most; it has overtaken much of that animated programming. We’re not talking about cartoon characters slipping on banana peels and ramming into doors. Our data demonstrates that today’s norm is profanity-laden storylines involving everything from rape and cocaine to STDs and crystal meth. There is now more sexual content on these cartoons than violence – even when counting traditional ‘light’ cartoon violence.”

The study took particular aim at Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, which begins airing at 9:00 pm ET. Programs include Family Guy, American Dad and Children’s Hospital (the title doesn’t reflect the content).

Added Winter: “Parents need to understand just how explicit these cartoons are so they can make better viewing decisions for their family. They also must be given the chance to unsubscribe to explicit cable networks. As it stands now, every parent who subscribes to cable so their kids can watch Disney or Nickelodeon is also forking over cash every month to Adult Swim. Parents, not cable companies, should decide which cable networks they want to pay for. Just as shocking as the volume and degree of adult material in the cartoons was the abysmal network failure rate in applying consistent TV content rating standards. During the study period, harsh profanity and graphic sexual depictions aired during programs rated TV-PG. Cartoon Network failed to use the ratings system to warn parents about sexual content, suggestive dialogue and explicit language 100 percent of the time. We also discovered the networks are directly marketing adult entertainment products to kids during TV-PG programming, including R-rated movies and TV-MA shows and DVDs.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Adult Swim does put up explicit warnings before programming on the nature of the content, but that’s not going to stop kids from continuing to watch it—especially in the Summer when they tend to stay up later. The V-Chip is a solution, but it would force only G rated programming to be seen, across the board. So for now, it is up to the parents to police what’s being watched, or their TV viewing will be severely limited. Certainly, a PG rating may not be indicative of the content, either. That whole rating system may need to be updated. We have to also note that the study suggested the cable industry go to a la carte channel selections because of these findings.