MODERN FAMILY - on the ABC Television Network. (Richard Foreman/ABC)

Major networks on Monday announced that they would begin their voluntary programs on Dec. 1, and determine their own content ratings systems.

TV content ratings are also voluntary by broadcasters and not enforced by law. The basic ratings in TV-PG for parental guidance suggest, TV-14 for content inappropriate for children younger than 14, and TV-MA for content inappropriate for children younger than 17.

The effort to bring those guidelines to the Internet comes as families increasingly turn to online streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix for children’s shows. About 15 percent of online video viewers are children ages 2 to 17, according to Nielsen research. Some analysts say kids programming is among the most popular on streaming video service Netflix, where children can watch unlimited repeat episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and “Avatar.”

As children grow older, their viewing of videos online increases. Teens are among the most likely to watch videos over mobile devices.One in four teens own a smartphone, according to a March report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board found that 61 percent of teens reported watching television programming on a device other than a television.

Federal lawmakers and regulators are grappling with the swift adoption of technology by children, who are spending more time than ever in front of television, computers and smartphones. Bills have been proposed to prevent advertisers from tracking children’s activity online. Facebook, meanwhile, last week said it may open its vast social network to children under 13.

Broadcast indecency complaints have piled up at the Federal Communications Commission. And children’s safety advocates complain there are no federal indecency rules for media content on the Internet.

Federal regulators lauded the decision to make television ratings available for all their full-length television shows. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, TeleFutura, Telemundo and Univision will announce their move Monday morning, according to the FCC. Some sites already provide content ratings, such as Hulu. Netflix created a “Just for Kids” feature that puts G- to PG-13 rated shows in one searchable directory. And it’s unclear how effective the guidelines are in keeping inappropriate content away from children.

“The way we watch is clearly changing. But what is not changing is the need to provide parents with simple and honest means to monitor and manage their children’s viewing,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s announcement is a first step in the right direction.”


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