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Violence et télévision

Jean-Michel Lacroix

ViewControl™: Using Technology to Control Your Television Diet

Tim Collings

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ViewLevel™ Ratings

1Before I discuss the proposed rating system, I would like to thank the CRTC, CCTA, & CAB for their support and the Action Group on Violence on Television for their work on the classification system. We are working towards a trial of the complete system, with approximately 100 subscribers, this fall in Edmonton in conjunction with Shaw Cable Systems and SuperChannel and we appreciate their support. This dry run will provide "raw data" and will be our first opportunity to test subscriber reaction and the effectiveness of the technology in the field. Having said that, I want to stress that the rating system described here is very preliminary, and we are proceeding with this trial because we don't have all of the answers.

2Given the potential confusion of the various classification systems, along with the fact that different people find different things to be objectionable, we would like to propose a solution which addresses these problems. We refer to our classifications as ViewLevels™. ViewLevels™ are new and should not be confused with other rating systems. They provide clear and concise information. That means giving the parent enough information at a glance to form intelligent opinions about whether they feel a program is suitable for viewing.

3Traditionally there have been three areas of potentially objectionable material: violence (V), language (L) and sex/nudity (S). Given these areas, it should be relatively easy to come up with a scale (1 to 9) for each category (i.e., Terminator II might receive a V-L-S rating of 7-6-2). It might be instructive to point out that the MPAA now has verbal explanations indicating why films received the ratings they did. Some descriptives in the violence category include: "Scenes of violence", "Horror violence", Gory violence", "Extreme violence", "Some strong violence", "Violence and disturbing scenes", and even "Graphic monster violence". These are only violence warnings, but most of the MPAA ratings are also accompanied with additional warnings about nudity and/or language. While all of these descriptions are informative and useful, the fact remains that they are necessary because of the shortcomings of the classification system itself. The proposed classification system would not make value judgments about the program in question. Currently a film could be rated "R" in Alberta and receive a "PG13" in Quebec. This decision represents different cultural attitudes to nudity/sex. The same program could easily get a V-L-S rating of 2-4-7 in both provinces leaving the viewing decision up to the viewer. ViewLevels™ are consistent over time. We all know of movies rated "R" ten years ago that would barely merit a "PG" now. ViewLevels™ do not solve these problems entirely, but they would go a long way toward ensuring consistency and longevity of the ratings. The following table is a potential "scale" to show how the violence category could be treated in a somewhat objective manner. Please note that this is not the scale; just an example to show how it might work:


Possible Scale for Violence


No violence.
Mild slapping, hitting or comic violence.
Moderate vilence. Non-specific verbal threats.
Strong violence. Hand combat, specific verbal threats.
Severe violence. Some blood but not very graphic.
Extreme violence. Some graphic scenes.
Graphic scenes of violence. Violence within a sexual context.
Brutal and gory scenes. Violence within a sexual context.
Gratuitous violence, inconsequential, maximum shock value.

4While at first glance the system may look complicated, we hope that it takes less than a few minutes to grasp the concept and only a few minutes more to become comfortable with it (an easy way to remember the rating order is to look at the word ViewLevels™ to get V-L-S). We will find out if it is easy to master during trial testing this fall. ViewLevels™ avoid making value judgments and concentrate instead on the reasons why whose judgments might be made.

5In addition to these guidelines some lee-way should exist to move the rating up or down by one number to account for the context within which the material is presented. This would still keep the basic integrity of the system without unduly distorting the ratings. Similar scales would be developed for violence and language. Developing a clear-cut "industry standard" set of guidelines would go a long way toward creating consistency.

6We would also allow for various "versions" of films. For example: the "theatrical" version of Basic Instinct might carry a rating of 7-7-4; the "unrated" version might be 8-8-5; while to the version that winds up on television might be a 5-5-3. The differences would be apparent to the viewer and give some assurances to the audience.

ViewLevel™ Encoding

7A program is assigned ViewLevels™ in each of three categories according to the level of violence, coarse language and sexually explicit content. ViewLevels™ are encoded directly into the video signal although invisible to the viewer. The format used to encode ViewLevels™ data is similar to that used for closed captioning encryption. Closed captions are inserted on line 21, which is invisible on a normal TV screen. Four channels are available for captioning and text transmission. We will be using text channel T2 for testing and estimate that this will require approximately 3 % of the available bandwidth (captioning normally uses about 50 % of the space) and therefore would not degrade the performance of existing captioning systems. The decision to use line 21 also simplifies testing because most broadcast facilities have closed captioning encoders with built-in computer interfaces for programming.

8The ViewLevels™ information is preceded by a special character followed by several data packets. The first byte in each packet designates the category (V, L, or S) and the next two bytes specify the level in that category. We have included a feature that allows for instantaneous scene blocking by designating a primary and secondary level for each category. The first number received (the primary level) is the rating applied to the entire program and represents the overall rating as designated by the scale. The second number (the secondary level) corresponds to the rating of the current segment being broadcast. For example an "S61" would designate a program that contains moderate full frontal nudity with no nudity in the current segment of the broadcast. The primary level would remain constant during the entire program while the secondary level could vary between one and the primary level throughout the program. This feature would allow viewers to either block out the entire show, or just those scenes which are offensive, if they so desire. During testing we will not likely be implementing this feature, as it requires a good deal more programming, but conceivably this secondary information could easily be added (particularly if done during production). The primary level and secondary levels in a particular category might resemble the following during a typical program segment:

9The primary ViewLevels™ would be published in the TV guide and clearly marked on a video cassette. Primary and secondary ViewLevels™ change as soon as they are received and would normally be updated every 5 seconds (i.e. individual 5-second segments could be blocked). Obviously a faster update would produce a more responsive system and would enable finer blocking resolution. Updating ViewLevels™ every second would require 15 % of the available bandwidth. Additional categories could be added without affecting the integrity of the encoding process.

ViewControl™ Decoding

10ViewControl™ gives parents control over the programming their family watches. A tiny integrated circuit (V-Chip) can be built into a receiver (converter, VCR, tuner, or TV) set to strip the ViewLevels™ from the video signal. The ViewLevels™ could be displayed at the bottom corner of the screen to inform the viewer of the nature of program content as the following sample figure illustrates (primary levels 7-8-5, secondary levels 2-2-4):

11The received ViewLevels™ can then be compared to three threshold levels chosen by the viewer. If the ViewLevels™ are higher than those selected, the screen switches from the program and informs the audience that viewing is inappropriate. The screen could simply go black or display the chart above to provide a grapbic explanation of the reason for blocking. The viewer thresholds could be set with some switches on the receiver box. It might be preferable to set these thresholds using an on-screen programming facility if possible. Different settings could be programmed for different members of the family and control would switch between settings by entering a personal identification number (PIN) similar to that used for banking machines. This method would certainly be much more secure and robust.

12The ViewControl™ can be set to operate in either primary or secondary mode depending on the viewer's preference. If the ViewLevels™ are higher in any category than the viewer's specified threshold, the ViewControl™ inhibits program reception. Viewing is restored as soon as the ViewLevels™ fall back below the thresholds. This will occur only if the program content changes or the channel is changed to a program with acceptable ViewLevels™. The ViewControl™ receiver will function based on the most recent ViewLevels™. It may require up to 5 seconds to register a new set of ViewLevels™ if the channel is changed during blocking. Blocking is automatically removed after a period of 10 seconds if no new ViewLevels™ are received. This feature is included so that the receiver will still operate with non-encoded channels.


School of Engineering Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Colombie Britannique, Canada.

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1997

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