Cable Rolls Out Program-Blocking Aids

WASHINGTON Leading cable companies on Wednesday pledged renewed efforts to help customers block objectionable programming, with steps to include the display of ratings icons after each commercial break.

The move came as Congress considers bringing cable and satellite TV services under the same indecency strictures that affect broadcasters. Leaders who say they support the idea include the powerful chairs of each chamber’s commerce committee, but neither has pushed for a vote on the matter.

Cable companies will use public service announcements worth $250 million to remind families about parental content controls, and will provide similar notifications in monthly bills and Web sites, the companies said at a Washington press conference. The changes to the icons are to begin June 1 and will include increasing the symbols’ size by 70 percent, the companies said.

“Cable operators understand that parents want to better control their TV viewing,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast. Roberts also is chair of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the big-cable trade group that organized Wednesday’s event.

It was unlikely the changes would mollify cable critics, who say customers should not have to pay for racy programs that they then must block.

Some critics suggest letting customers select programming on a channel-by-channel or a la carte basis, rather than choosing among the broad programming tiers that dominate the industry.

Cable officials say a la carte selection would make it harder to start new channels or nurture niche programming, and would leave customers paying more for less selection.