When they talk to Wall Street, broadcast moguls love to boast about their financial power and unparalleled ability to reach mass audiences. But the FCC heard a different story this week from networks as they challenged the agency’s efforts to minimize indecent programming. Companies say that the rules are too vague, that they clash with broadcasters’ First Amendment rights, and that parents can control what their kids watch. But ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC also say that rules are archaic because the networks have lost so much cultural clout. Fox says in an FCC filing, “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.” In a separate filing, NBCUniversal observes that “Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st Century Americans.” Broadcast network affiliates’ total day share of viewing “was just 28 percent in the 2010-2011 television season – compared to the 53 percent viewing share held by ad-supported cable programming networks.” CBS also notes that “the day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”

The FCC also was flooded with comments from individuals and groups that support restrictions on broadcasters’ ability to show indecent programming. Parents Television Council President Tim Winter took issue with Fox’s filing saying that the network “has aired scripted animated programs featuring a man masturbating a horse, a character eating excrement out of a baby’s diaper, and a baby eating a bowl of semen, just to name a few. Ask just about anyone who doesn’t get compensated by the broadcast networks and they’ll tell you that these scenes are patently offensive. … The American people (those without armies of lobbyists) are concerned about the volume of indecent material on TV that is targeting their children and grandchildren.”