NEW YORK (Reuters) - The leading U.S. television networks said on Monday they would provide ratings guidance for parents for their programs broadcast on the Internet, but at least one group, The Parents Television Council, said the move fell short.
ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TeleFutura, Telemundo and Univision broadcast networks said they would make ratings information available for full length entertainment programs that stream on websites they control from December 1, 2012.
The announcement was made in a statement signed by all the networks involved that was titled, "Empowering Parents in the Digital Age."
"The precise means of making the information available will be determined by each company, but the TV ratings will appear at the beginning of full-length video programs and also in the online programming descriptions," the networks said in a statement.
Television networks currently issue voluntary notices at the start of each show advising on sexual, language and violence content and whether shows are appropriate for all viewers, those over 14, or 17 and older.
But such guidelines have not until now been available for TV shows streamed on the Web or on sites such as Netflix and Hulu, which are increasingly popular among teens.
The TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board found in an April study that 61 percent of U.S. teens watch TV programs on a laptop, videogame player or a device other than a TV set.
The Board also found that 72 percent of parents report having rules about TV use and that 36 percent uses a V-chip or other parental controls that block programming they consider unsuitable for their children.
Parents lobby group TV Watch on Monday welcomed the new content ratings for the Internet. Executive Director Jim Dyke said in a statement they will give parents "an expanded set of tools to help determine what their children watch based on their own taste, style and age."
However, the Parents Television Council said the timing of the networks' announcement while the U.S. Supreme Court considers landmark cases relating to whether restrictions on sexual, language and violence content can be relaxed, was "dubious."
The court is weighing the government's power to regulate profanity and nudity on broadcast television, with the major television networks contesting the Federal Communications indecency policy, including over a 2002 awards show where singer Cher blurted out an expletive.
Another was a 2003 show when actress Nicole Ritchie used two expletives. A third was a seven-second shot of a woman's nude buttocks on a 2003 "NYPD Blue" episode on Walt Disney Co's ABC that led to $1.21 million in fines.
"Broadcasters have a unique publicly-granted privilege and it is past time for them to start providing real solutions to parents, rather than attempting half measures designed to sway the Court's and the public's opinion. This is too big an issue to continue playing games," the Parents Television Council said in a statement.
If the U.S. Supreme Court sides with the networks, some believe the FCC will be less likely to aggressively keep tabs on content breaches in the future.
The four biggest broadcasters are ABC, operated by Disney Co, CBS Corp, News Corp's Fox and NBC, controlled by Comcast Corp.
(Reporting By Christine Kearney; editing by Jill Serjeant and Andre Grenon)