Major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — are showing less sexual content on television, particularly during the first two hours of prime time, a TV watchdog group said Tuesday.
There was a decrease in sexual content during family hour — 8 to 9 p.m. — on every broadcast network but the WB, and every network but the WB and UPN has decreased sexual content during the second hour of prime time, according to the Parents Television Council's "State of the Industry" report released Tuesday.
The study analyzed all prime-time entertainment programming on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and the WB from the first two weeks of the 1998, 2000, 2002 November sweeps periods, for a total of 400 hours.
Viewership levels during the ultra-competitive sweeps periods in November, February and May are used by local broadcast affiliates and cable systems to set ad rates and make program decisions. Networks tend to concentrate blockbuster — and sometimes racy — programming during these periods to generate maximum ratings.
"For years, conventional wisdom in Hollywood had it that 'sex sells,' and therefore, more of it, the better," said L. Brent Bozell III, council president. "But ratings data and survey results prove that's not true." The nonpartisan council advocates less sex and violence on television.
CBS spokesman Chris Ender said there is no explanation for the dip in sexual content on the network.
"Chastity is not a strategy at CBS," he said. "We haven't given producers any directive to reduce sexual content. When we do present sexual content, we aim to do it in a responsible way."
Sexual content was defined as nudity, innuendo, suggestive comments or jokes and references or allusions to specific sexual acts.
Sexual content is down by 9 percent across all the broadcast networks during the first hour of prime time and down 12 percent in the second hour since 1998.
Only three of the broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — schedule entertainment programming for the 10 p.m. hour. Of those three, sexual content was down only on ABC.
An earlier study on the major broadcast networks and cable TV by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found TV's sexual content was increasing, with nearly 70 percent of shows in the 1999-2000 season featuring talk about sex or showing sexual behavior. The figure was 56 percent in a study of the 1997-98 season.
In the Parents Television Council study, ABC showed the greatest decrease in sexual content during family hour since 1998, with a 67 percent dip, followed by a 48 percent drop at Fox. Sexual content on UPN was down 12 percent, and 6 percent on CBS. WB was up 88 percent. NBC went up roughly 45 percent between 1998 and 2002, but showed a more recent decrease of 34 percent between 2000 and 2002.
During the second hour of prime-time, sexual content on Fox was down 80 percent, followed by ABC, down 72 percent, and CBS, down 39 percent. Sexual content on NBC went up 32 percent between 1998 and 2002, but dipped 37 percent within the last two years. UPN had an increase of 20 percent and WB 310 percent, because the numbers were so small.
Fox, NBC and WB declined immediate comment. ABC and UPN did immediately return calls seeking comment.