V-chip is a generic term for technology used in television set
Television set
A television set is a device that combines a tuner, display, and speakers for the purpose of viewing television. Television sets became a popular consumer product after the Second World War, using vacuum tubes and cathode ray tube displays...

 receivers in the USA
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, and Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 which allows the blocking of programs based on their ratings
Television rating system
Television content rating systems give viewers an idea of the suitability of a television program for children or adults. Many countries have their own television rating system and each country's rating process may differ due to local priorities...

 category. It is intended for use by parents to manage their children's television viewing. Televisions manufactured for the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 market since 1999 and all units as of January 2000 are required to have the V-chip technology
Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, and procedures. The word technology comes ;...

. The idea for blocking programs in this way was patented by Brett West and John P. Gardner in 1994 and tested in Canada. Since then many devices using V-chip technology have been produced.

V-chip technology works much like closed captioning and uses the vertical blanking interval in the television signal. The system receives a special code in the broadcast signal which indicates the show's score according to a simple numerical rating system for violence, sex, and language. The programs' signals are encoded according to their rating, on line 21
EIA-608, also known as line 21 captions, used to be the standard for closed captioning for NTSC TV broadcasts in the United States and Canada...

 of the broadcast signal's vertical blanking interval
Vertical blanking interval
The vertical blanking interval , also known as the vertical interval or VBLANK, is the time difference between the last line of one frame or field of a raster display, and the beginning of the first line of the next frame. It is present in analog television, VGA, DVI and other signals. During the...

 using the XDS
Extended Data Services
Extended Data Services , is an American standard classified under Electronic Industries Alliance standard CEA-608-E for the delivery of any ancillary data to be sent with an analog television program, or any other NTSC video signal.XDS is used by TV stations, TV networks, and TV program...

 protocol, and this is detected by the television set's V-chip. If the program rating is outside the level configured as acceptable on that particular television the program is blocked. The V-chip does not block news or sports casts as this sort of programming does not have ratings.

The V-chip has a four-digit numerical password in order to keep older children from changing its settings. However it can be overridden by anyone who reads the television's manual to find out how to reset the password to 0000 (built into the V-chip in case the parents themselves forget the password that they set).

The phrase "V-chip" was purportedly coined by Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. According to him the "V" stands for "violence". However, in an interview with Tim Collings, one of the people who claim to have invented the device, he says that it was intended to stand for "viewer control."


In 1975 the Family Viewing Hour
Family Viewing Hour
The Family Viewing Hour was a policy established by the United States Federal Communications Commission in 1975. Under the policy, each television network in the U.S. had a responsibility to air "family-friendly" programming in the first hour of the prime time lineup...

 was introduced in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. During this hour broadcasters had to play TV content suitable for all ages. This idea was quickly done away with because broadcasters felt it violated their First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 rights by restricting what content they could play. Here lies the basis for such a device as the V-chip and a television rating system. The inventor of the V-chip technology originally meant for it to be a simple tool that parents could useif they felt strongly about monitoring their children’s television viewing. He had no idea it would become a national standard for all televisions to contain.

Creation and implementation

In 1993 Keith Spicer the head of the Canadian Telecommunications Commission met with top American executives and disclosed information about the V-Chip Technology. "Tim Colling’s creation holds promise in the future of the television industry, and the more exposure achieved, the more nations are able to benefit." Discussions took place about the increasing amount of violence on TV and the importance of monitoring and blocking shows. This sparked interest but no steps were taken for implementation. In 1994 the technology was presented at a Violence on TV conference in France and later again at a conference in Belgium. This is where Al Gore first became familiarized with the concept of the V-Chip and the exposure helped him to advise Bill Clinton which led to the decision to pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Once the V-Chip gained the ability to block multiple shows at the same time interest in the technology expanded significantly. In January 1998 exclusive rights to the V-Chip were sold to Tri-Vision Electronics Inc.

Scientific-Technical Forces

After being inspired to make a change in the violent programming available to youth, Oregon engineer John Jackson developed the V-chip. Jackson conducted an independent study in, Southern Oregon, to determine the effects of television on violence. The Canadian Radio-Television Commission also conducted studies to determine the possible effects of television on violence. A link was indeed found between violence and television and the v-chip gained popularity when it was revealed at a Technology Exposition at the G7 meetings in Brussels in 1995.

Political Forces

One of the driving forces of the development of the v-chip was the signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by president Bill Clinton. Through the Telecommunications Act, the television industry was given the opportunity to establish ratings for its programming. The act also ordered that half of all 13’’ screen or larger television sets after July 1st 1999 must have the v-chip installed and that all of 13’’ screen or larger television sets after January 1st 2000 must have the v-chip installed. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission supported the act and worked to enforce it.

Social Forces

Another force that drove the development of the v-chip was public concern with acts of violence being committed by young people. After repeated school shootings, societies were looking for an answer as to why such tragedies were occurring. The v-chip created a heightened awareness of television content and broadcasters were held accountable for what was being aired.

The Telecommunications Act

The V-chip was an added provision in U.S. President Bill Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of United States telecommunications law in nearly 62 years, amending the Communications Act of 1934. This Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, was a major stepping stone towards the future of telecommunications, since this was the...

. "If every parent uses this chip wisely, it can become a powerful voice against teen violence, teen pregnancy, teen drug use, and for both learning and entertainment," Clinton said during his speech as he signed the Telecommunications Act on February 8, 1996. "We're handing the TV remote control back to America's parents so that they can pass on their values and protect their children." The addition of the V-chip into the Telecommunications Act was helpful to attract American voters for the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.

The portion of the overall act which affects the V-chip is that of Title V. This section, entitled “Obscenity and Violence” addresses the influence parents may have over their children’s viewing capabilities on cable television. Section 551, Parental Choice in Television Programming, outlines the effects that violence has on the youth of a nation and addresses how parents should exercise the control to limit and/or block what information their children are in fact viewing and what is being broadcast into their private homes. Also addressed is the inclusion of the implementation of a rating code for violence within television programming. Parents should be informed of the content of a program prior to its airing so that appropriate precautions may be made to protect their children from said material. The V-Chip technology would be employed in such an event


In 1996 the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 decreed that the television industry should create a voluntary rating system for its shows called the TV Parental Guidelines. Three main associations the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association and the Motion Picture Association of America would establish this rating system. Along with the three founding associations the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission would select five members of the advocacy community to participate in establishing television ratings. Altogether the FCC chairman, six members from each broadcasting industry and the five non-industry members make up a total of 24 participants. These ratings are the icons that appear in the corner of the television screen at the beginning of every show and after each commercial break for many broadcasters. These ratings include TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-Y7-FV, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA.

TV-Y includes all television programs designed to be appropriate for all children. TV-Y7 programs are directed to older children, specifically aged 7 and above. TV-Y7-FV programs are also directed to older children aged 7 and above with the addition that this rating denotes fantasy or animated violence. TV-G includes programs appropriate for all ages because it contains little to no violence, no strong language, and little to no sexual situations. TV-PG programs may include materials that parents may find unsuitable, including moderate violence, some sexual situations, or infrequent coarse language. TV-14 programs have parents strongly cautioned for materials unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Finally, TV-MA programs are specifically designed to be viewed by adults aged 17 and up.


Tim Collings states he developed the V-chip technology while he was an engineering professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia; however, he did not obtain a patent on the technology.


An idea for blocking programs in this way was patented by Brett West and John P. Gardner in 1994 and tested in Canada. The patent was number 5,550,575. Two others separately patented devices similar or identical to the V-chip: John Olivo of Parental Guide of Omaha, and an Air Force captain by the name of Carl Elam. Collings, Olivo, and Elam all claim to have invented the technology.

Although there is debate over who patented the V-chip, Wi-LAN of Ottawa is the current holder.


On April 25, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 released a report entitled In the Matter of Violent Television Programming And Its Impact On Children. The report discusses the low usage of V-chip technology. In its analysis, the report addresses the following studies:

According to a 2003 study, parents' low level of V-chip use is explained in part by their unawareness of the device and the "multi-step and often confusing process" necessary to use it. Only 27% of all parents in the study group could figure out how to program the V-chip, and many parents "who might otherwise have used the V-Chip were frustrated by an inability to get it to work properly."

The Kaiser Family Foundation
Kaiser Family Foundation
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation , or just Kaiser Family Foundation, is a U.S.-based non-profit, private operating foundation headquartered in Menlo Park, California. It focuses on the major health care issues facing the nation, as well as the U.S. role in global health policy...

 conducted a telephone survey in 2004 of 1,001 parents of children ages 2–17. The results of that survey showed that:
  • 15% of all parents had used the V-chip
  • 26% of all parents had not bought a new television set since January 2000, when the V-chip was first required in all televisions
  • 39% of all parents had bought a new television set since January 2000, but did not think it even included a V-chip
  • 20% of all parents knew they had a V-chip, but had not used it.

A March 2007 Zogby poll indicated, among other things, that 88% of respondents did not use a V-chip or cable box parental controls in the previous week, leading the Parents Television Council
Parents Television Council
The Parents Television Council is a U.S. based advocacy group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III in 1995 using the National Legion of Decency as a model...

 to call the
television industry's V-chip education campaign a failure. However this poll did not measure whether parents were aware of the V-chip and chose not to use it.

The networks feared that a single profanity would block an entire program. They also feared that they would lose advertising revenue because advertisers would not pay for time slots during programs that might be blocked.

Lack of supporting research

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that, "Research has not proven that watching violence on television causes watchers to commit violence" citing the Federal Trade Commission's Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of the Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording, &" Electronic Game Industries report in September 2001 as support. In ACLU's website, ACLU quoted the FTC in saying that, "[m]ost researchers and investigators agree that exposure to media violence alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act, and that it is not the sole, or even the most important, factor in contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence."

According to J.M. Balkin, author of Media Filters and the V-Chip, "[People] also want to filter out dangerous ideas and views they do not agree with or expressions that offend and anger them." There is also cultural and familial differences; an action, activity, or behavior may be deemed as "appropriate" for one culture or for one family but may very well be considered "inappropriate" for another culture or for another family. Balkin says some people believe that the use of the V-chip is a way for the government to "intervene and impose binding moral standards" on others.


While the V-chip is fairly inexpensive to add to individual television sets, a large amount of money has been spent educating people on the technology. $550 million was spent to educate parents on the V-chip, but they are no more aware of the technology or the ways in which it can be put to use now than they were before the funds were spent.

Infringement on rights

The V-chip is criticized for being an infringement on basic human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

. Many people argue that it is not the government's right to monitor or censor what viewers watch on television. According to this argument, because the government regulates the rating system, it is also regulating much of parents' decision making processes on their children's viewing habits. Caroline Fredrickson, of the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

, stated, "These FCC recommendations are political pandering. The government should not replace parents as decision makers in America's living rooms. There are some things that the government does well. But deciding what is aired and when on television is not one of them."

Violation of the First Amendment

The V-chip is also being criticized for violating the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) campaigned to defeat legislation regarding the V-Chip. The ACLU believes that the V-Chip “is a form of censorship”. Moreover, proponents of the TV industry are worried that TV shows deemed too violent or suggestive would be pulled off the air.

Insufficient number of users

Despite the amount that has been spent on educating parents on use of the V-chip, there is still a low proportion of users. Of parents who have access to the V-chip, just 15% actually use it. As reported in 2007, 39% of parents who had access to the V-chip were unaware of its existence, and 20% of parents who knew of the V-chip's existence opted not to try it. Tim Winters, the Executive director for the Parents Television Council
Parents Television Council
The Parents Television Council is a U.S. based advocacy group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III in 1995 using the National Legion of Decency as a model...

 stated, "What I see is a solution that's flawed at every level. Conceptually, it's not bad, but practically, it's abhorrent."

From 1999-2001, a research study was conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center
Annenberg Public Policy Center
The Annenberg Public Policy Center is a center for the study of public policy at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. It has offices in Washington, D.C...

 to observe the use of the V-chip in family households. The study was conducted on a total of 150 families with children between the ages of 7 and 10 who had V-chip television sets in their homes. Over the course of a year, the families’ use of the V-chip technology was observed to draw conclusions about the overall use of the V-chip in family environments.

Three experimental groups (High Information, Low Information, Control Group) were used to determine how crucial pre-emptive training and informational sessions on the V-chip were to their actual use. The first group was given a new TV, equipped with V-chip technology, and detailed information about the V-chip. The second group was also given a new TV equipped with V-chip technology but no special training on the V-chip. The control group was not given a new TV or special training, but was followed over the same time period to observe their V-chip use.

Overall, the study found:
  • Only 33 out of 110 families (30%) who received a new television set with V-chip technology programmed it during the course of the study
  • Of those 33 families, only nine families (8%) regularly used the technology
  • 24 out of 110 families (22%) tried the device at some point but didn’t use it through the year either through choice or because they didn’t understand how to use the V-chip
  • 77 families (70%) never used the V-chip technology at all during the year study

Many families either had no idea that their television possessed a V-chip or gave up after struggling to program it. Even families who were given extensive information on the V-chip still opted to not use the technology. Overall, this study suggests that there are an insufficient number of households that implement the V-chip technology.

Proponents of the V-chip

While a lot of controversies have been sparked by the V-chip, what sets it apart from other issues is that the V-chip imposes no government constraints on television programming itself; it is up to an individual family's discretion to choose which programs to block. When Congressman Ed Markey, chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, introduced the first V-chip legislation, he told the press that parents "will be given the power to send a message directly to the industry. The government will not be involved."

Parental responsibility

While the U.S. Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 (FCC) and Parents Television Council
Parents Television Council
The Parents Television Council is a U.S. based advocacy group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III in 1995 using the National Legion of Decency as a model...

 (PTC) research has shown low percentages in parental involvement in television viewing control, Television Watch
Television Watch
Television Watch is an American non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Charleston, South Carolina. The organization was established in May 2005 in response to the perceived increase in government regulation of television content...

, a Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

-based organization advocating the use of parental controls like the V-chip, has consistently found otherwise in its research. They found in June 2007 that the majority of parents personally monitor their children's television viewing in some way, whether through use of the V-chip or other means. TV Watch has also found that most parents know that they have the option of the V-chip or other parental controls to monitor their children's television viewing, and believe it is primarily their responsibility, not that of the government, to protect children from inappropriate content on television.

In response to the PTC survey on the V-chip that claimed the device's failure, TV Watch maintains that the survey was "flawed by faulty analysis and biased methodology". TV Watch also participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation
Kaiser Family Foundation
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation , or just Kaiser Family Foundation, is a U.S.-based non-profit, private operating foundation headquartered in Menlo Park, California. It focuses on the major health care issues facing the nation, as well as the U.S. role in global health policy...

 forum in June 2007, based on recent Kaiser research, which claims that most parents do monitor their children's television viewing, whether or not by means of the V-chip.


As stated in an article in the Washington Times from March 1998, the V-chip was envisioned to be inexpensive. The cost to install the V-chip into televisions that are not already equipped with it is between five and ten dollars. In addition, every television set with parameters of 13 inches or larger sold after the year 2000 is required to have a V-chip pre-installed. Therefore, some say the cost is insignificant when purchasing a television.

Ease of monitoring for parents

The TV ratings system is designed to aid parents in deciding what programming they deem appropriate for their children to watch. One such site that explains the ratings system is TheTVBoss.org, which was created by the United States Ad Council
Ad Council
The Advertising Council, commonly known as the Ad Council, is an American non-profit organization that distributes public service announcements on behalf of various sponsors, including non-profit organizations and agencies of the United States government....

. The website explains the various options for controlling children's viewing patterns. It also contains instructions for activating the chip.

Support from PTA groups

Many parents' groups are in favor of monitoring children's viewing habits, mostly for the purpose of building family values. "America's families will be now the ultimate judges of [the new ratings system's] effectiveness,"http://www.educationpolicy.org/briefs/refrmnws-Jul97B.htm
said Lois Joan White, Parent-Teacher Association
Parent-Teacher Association
In the U.S. a parent-teacher association or Parent-Teacher-Student Association is a formal organization composed of parents, teachers and staff that is intended to facilitate parental participation in a public or private school. Most public and private K-8 schools in the U.S. have a PTA, a...

 president, in 1997 in support of V-chip technology. The V-chip is also supported by other websites like FamilySafeMedia.com, http://www.familysafemedia.com/v-chip.html which presents technologies like the Weemote
The Weemote is a television remote control made by Fobis Technologies that is designed for young children.- Design :The Weemote was designed for younger children to limit their ability to surf television channels, and also to partially serve as a learning tool. The remote looks like a toy with...

 and TVGuardian as alternatives to the V-chip. http://www.familysafemedia.com/about_us.html

The V-chip and commercials

The V-chip has provided parents and guardians the ability to monitor and block television shows that are unfavorable for children to watch in specific households by reading the information that is encoded in the rated program and blocking it based upon that rating it has been given. However, due to the increasing variety of technology that is being developed and used in the household, parents are concerned that their children will be exposed to the same content they are trying to block through unrated commercials. Because commercials are not rated, the V-chip does not have the ability to censor lewd or inappropriate commercials. This raises issues because children can see the same content that they are blocked from on regular shows while watching commercials. This causes the V-Chip to be ineffective unless it applies to both television programs as well as commercials.

The ANA, the Association of National Advertisers, disagrees with creating a V-chip for commercials because it would block commercials and therefore be “economically ruinous for content providers, especially broadcasters.” Blocking certain commercials from being viewed will be detrimental financially to broadcasters as well as ad companies.

The ANA also believes that rating thousands of commercials due to a select amount being inappropriate would be a waste of time. This would be seen as a clear example of “regulatory overkill”. The ad industry also already has guidelines in which commercials with sensitive matter have to follow and abide by. It also self-regulates which programs certain types of ads can be placed in. As far as the ANA is concerned, these programs are very effective and do not need any modification or alteration.

Because rating commercials globally would be a difficult task, a possible suggestion would be to limit inappropriate commercials and promotions shown at certain times that children watch television. In order to partially protect children from seeing inappropriate commercials should include certain improvements to the V-Chip that can follow the same standard across all areas of media that include, “broadcast, cable, satellite, DVRs and, to the extent possible, the Internet.”

See also

  • Analog television
    Analog television
    Analog television is the analog transmission that involves the broadcasting of encoded analog audio and analog video signal: one in which the message conveyed by the broadcast signal is a function of deliberate variations in the amplitude and/or frequency of the signal...

  • Analog transmission
    Analog transmission
    Analog transmission is a transmission method of conveying voice, data, image, signal or video information using a continuous signal which varies in amplitude, phase, or some other property in proportion to that of a variable...

  • Censorship
    thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

  • Motion picture rating system
    Motion picture rating system
    A motion picture rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content...

  • Parental controls
    Parental controls
    Parental controls are features which may be included in digital television services, computer and video games, mobile phones and computer software...

  • Production Code
    Production Code
    The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral censorship guidelines that governed the production of the vast majority of United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the Hays Code, after Hollywood's chief censor of the...

  • Re-edited film
    Re-edited film
    A re-edited film is a film that has been edited from the original theatrical release.-Types of re-editing:Films edited for format, length, and content....

  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
    South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
    South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a 1999 animated musical comedy film based on the animated television series South Park, created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The film was directed by Parker, who also stars along with the rest of the regular voice cast from the series, including Stone, Mary...

  • Television content rating systems

External links

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