Frequently Asked Questions
V-Chip and Ratings
Q: Who rates television programs?
A: The broadcasters themselves determine the appropriate rating for a program based on the individual rating descriptions of the relevant classification system (click on Ratings Classifications to see those descriptions). Unlike the way movies are rated by provincial film boards, television program ratings are not assigned by the CRTC, the CBSC or any other independent rating or pre-clearance organization.
However, if you feel a program has been incorrectly rated, you can file a complaint with the CBSC and it will determine whether the station made the correct rating choice.
Q: How do I find out what a certain program is rated?
A: Some television guides publish the program ratings. The rating might also be indicated on the station’s website, or on your cable or satellite television distributor’s on-screen menu (some cable and satellite television providers use their own rating system, different from what the television stations use). But there is no rule that requires television stations to publish or post the ratings, so you may just have to watch the beginning of the program to find out.
Also, episodes should be rated on a case-by-case basis, so one episode of a program in a series may be rated higher than others if it contains more adult content.
Furthermore, previous V-chip research indicated that parents did not set the V-chip according to individual programs. Once they had experimented with different levels, and set the V-chip to the appropriate level for their family viewing, parents felt it was not necessary to know the classifications assigned to individual programs.
Q: Why are only certain types of programs rated?
A: Some programs are exempt from classification. That means they don’t have to be rated, but broadcasters may choose to put ratings on them anyway, especially if they contain adult material.
During extensive public consultations conducted across the country in 1995 by the CRTC there were wide-ranging discussions about what types of programs concerned parents. Based on all the opinions expressed during that public process, the CRTC concluded that four types of programming would be required to be rated, in order to achieve the goal of a balanced approach that would protect children from programming that might be inappropriate for them, while maintaining artistic and creative freedom.
The CRTC decided that children’s programming, drama programs, feature films and reality-based dramatic programs would have to be rated. Information programming, such as news, public affairs, documentaries, talk shows and magazine-style programs are exempt from classification. In addition, advertisements and promotional spots are not required to be rated.
Classification icons are not a substitute for viewer advisories. Viewer advisories must appear in audio and video format at the beginning of and coming out of commercial breaks during programming that contains adult material or is unsuitable for children under 12. Programs exempt from classification are not exempt from the viewer advisory requirement.
Q: Why don’t all Canadian broadcasters use the same rating system?
A: English- and third-language conventional and specialty stations use the rating system created by AGVOT; French-language conventional and specialty stations use the system of Québec’s provincial film board, the Régie du cinéma; and pay tv, pay-per-view and video-on-demand services use the rating system of the provincial film boards in their home provinces.
AGVOT created the rating system for Canadian broadcasters during the mid-1990s. The AGVOT system was adopted by English-language broadcasters in 1997. French broadcasters suggested that they use the rating system of the Régie du cinéma du Québec because French-speaking audiences were already familiar with that system. Pay television stations had been using the ratings of the provincial film boards since the 1980s because they broadcast mostly feature films that had already appeared in movie theatres and thus had already been given a rating. The pay stations suggested that they simply continue to use that approach. Pay-per-view and video-on-demand channels adopted that same approach as they came into existence during the 1990s.
The CRTC approved this varied approach in 1997. It agreed that the different types of stations could use these different ratings systems, although it encouraged broadcasters to work together to create a harmonized system. To date, however, Canadian broadcasters have not created a single, harmonized system.
Q: If I’m watching an American show on a Canadian station, does the program have an American or Canadian rating?
A: If the program is on a Canadian station, it has a Canadian rating. All Canadian broadcasters are responsible for the programming they air, regardless of where it was produced.
However, some American and other foreign stations are available directly into Canada. If you’re watching one of those stations, the rating will correspond to whatever classification system is in effect in that country.
Q: If I have a complaint about a program’s rating, what do I do?
A: You can contact the station directly or file an official complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). The CBSC is a self-regulatory agency responsible for administering the codes of standards that Canadian private broadcasters have established for their industry. Rules about ratings and classification are covered under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code, so the CBSC examines any complaints about incorrect ratings or absence of ratings under that Code. In order to pursue a complaint, the CBSC needs the name of the station, and the date and time that the program aired.
Q: How do I know if my television set has V-chip technology in it?
A: Most analog television sets with a screen size of over 13 inches made for the Canadian market since 2001 have some form of V-chip technology built in. Most digital television sets made for the North American market since 2006 have it too. Inclusion of the Canadian classification systems in television sets is not a regulatory or legislative requirement, but most manufacturers do include them on a voluntary basis. Check your television set’s manual to find out if it has the V-chip.
If you have a digital television set, the V-chip in it will only work if you are receiving your television signals as over-the-air digital signals or from a digital cable provider. The rating information cannot be passed through component video or HDMI connections.
Q: My television set is older than 2001. Can I get a V-chip installed in it?
A: V-chips are only installed in television sets at the factory and older sets cannot be retro-fitted. For a while, some companies were making stand-alone V-chip decoder boxes that could be hooked up to old television sets, but these are no longer widely available.
If you subscribe to digital cable or satellite television service, the digital decoder box has some form of blocking technology or parental controls. Contact your television service provider to find out how to use it.
Q: What does the V in V-chip stand for?
A: Some people think it stands for “violence” but the individual who is widely credited with inventing the V-chip, Tim Collings, says it stands for “viewer control”.
Q: Can the V-chip in my television set be activated to use more than one rating system at a time?
A: Many television sets available in Canada allow you to set blocking levels for different ratings systems, usually the Canadian English (AGVOT), Canadian French, and U.S. systems (but unfortunately not the Canadian provincial film board systems used by pay, pay-per-view and video-on-demand services). And they all work at the same time. The V-chip reads the signal encoded in the broadcast and automatically compares it to the correct rating system setting. If you are tuned to a Canadian English station, the V-chip looks for ratings codes used by that system. If it is a U.S. station, the V-chip compares the encoded signal to the setting for the U.S. TV rating system.
Q: Why don’t the ratings on my on-screen menu match the ratings that appear in the upper-left corner at the beginning of the program?
A: Many cable and satellite television providers offer their own blocking technology which works with their own decoder boxes. There is no requirement for satellite or cable distributors to use any particular classification system, so they may use rating categories that are different from those established for Canadian broadcasters by the Action Group on Violence on Television. Viewers who subscribe to cable or satellite television service should contact their providers for information on how to block programs using those individual technologies.
Q: My television set has the V-chip, but my cable/satellite decoder box has its own blocking technology. Which one should I use to block programs?
A: It depends on what type of television you have and how you get your television signals. In some cases, you can use either or both. For example, if you subscribe to digital cable, you can set parental controls using the V-chip in your television set or the blocking system built into the digital cable decoder box. If you want to set both, you will have to go through the steps for each system, but that will hopefully ensure that programs get blocked. Be aware, though, that many cable and satellite providers use their own ratings systems which are different from the ones that the television stations use to work with the actual V-chip.