Ratings Classification for Canadian English-Language and Third-Language Broadcasters

The ratings classification system used by Canadian English-language and third-language broadcasters was developed by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT) during the mid-1990s. The system was approved by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in June 1997 and was implemented by broadcasters in September 1997.

The ratings descriptions and V-chip technology were tested in nationwide field trials and consultations with parents and public interest groups. The classification system uses clear and consistent guidelines to evaluate the content of television programs. The ratings reflect the generally-accepted states of child development. Nevertheless, caregivers must make their own decisions about what is appropriate for the individual younger members of their households.

Broadcasters rate their programs based on the descriptions set out for each of the classification categories. Even if a Canadian channel is airing a foreign-produced program, it must put a Canadian rating on it. Viewers who feel a program has been rated incorrectly can file a complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC).

Ratings Category Descriptions

E – Exempt

Exempt programming includes: news, sports, documentaries and other information programming; talk shows, music videos, and variety programming.

Exempt programming does not require an on-screen classification icon and broadcasters are not required to encode a rating into the broadcast signal.

Children C – Children

Programming intended for children with this designation must adhere to the provisions of the Children’s section of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code.

As this programming is intended for younger children under the age of 8 years, it will pay careful attention to themes which could threaten their sense of security and well-being. As programming for children requires particular caution in the depiction of violence, there will be no realistic scenes of violence. Depictions of aggressive behaviour will be infrequent and limited to portrayals that are clearly imaginary and unrealistic in nature.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

Children Over 8 C8 – Children Over 8 Years

This classification is applied to children’s programming that is generally considered acceptable for youngsters 8 years and over to view on their own. It is suggested that a parent/guardian co-view programming assigned this classification with younger children under the age of 8.

Programming with this designation adheres to the provisions of the Children’s section of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code. These include not portraying violence as the preferred, acceptable, or only way to resolve conflict; or encouraging children to imitate dangerous acts which they may see on the screen.

Programming within this classification might deal with themes which could be unsuitable for younger children. References to any such controversial themes shall be discreet and sensitive to the 8-12 year age range of this viewing group.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

General G – General

Considered acceptable for all age groups. Appropriate viewing for the entire family.

This programming intended for a broad, general audience. While not designed specifically for children, it is understood that younger viewers may be part of the audience. Therefore programming within this classification shall contain very little violence, either physical, verbal or emotional.

It will be sensitive to themes which could threaten a younger child’s sense of security, and will depict no realistic scenes of violence which minimize or gloss over the effects of violent acts.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

Parental Guidance PG – Parental Guidance

This programming, while intended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the age of 8). Parents/guardians should be aware that there might be content elements which some could consider inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children in the 8-13 age range.

Programming within this classification might address controversial themes or issues. Cognizant that pre-teens and early teens could be part of this viewing group, particular care must be taken not to encourage imitational behaviour, and consequences of violent actions shall not be minimized.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

14 and over 14+ – Over 14 Years

Programming with this classification contains themes or content elements which might not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14. Parents are strongly cautioned to exercise discretion in permitting viewing by pre-teens and early teens without parent/guardian supervision, as programming with this classification could deal with mature themes and societal issues in a realistic fashion.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

18+ 18 + – Adults

Intended for viewers 18 years and older.

This classification applies to programming which could contain any or all of the following content elements which would make the program unsuitable for viewers under the age of 18.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

Technical Specifications


The icons are to be used in the top left-hand corner of the screen, inside the safe zone.


The icons are to be a minimum of 52 scan lines tall. This should be big enough to cover the US rating on any programming which is fed to the Canadian broadcaster with the American icon burned in. However, broadcasters will find there is some degree of inconsistency in the size of US icons. Stations are advised to experiment to ensure their icons are big enough to cover the US rating symbol on shows fed to them from American distributors.


The Canadian icons are to be 100% opaque, in order to fully cover any US rating symbols, therefore they do not require a linear keyer for operational use.


The icons are to be used in black and white format.

Icon Use Protocols


The rating icon is to be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the program. It is expected the Americans will have their ratings up for 15 seconds. For programs which run longer than one hour, the icon is to be repeated at the beginning of the second hour. These are minimal use standards; stations may wish to use the icons more frequently on programs with particularly sensitive content.

Covering US Icons

It is incumbent on Canadian program services to cover any US rating icons on those program categories which must be classified by Canadian broadcasters. Therefore, if a service receives any children’s programs, drama programs, reality-based drama programs or feature films with the US icons burned in, it is required to superimpose a Canadian classification.

On programs such as talk shows, which carry a US rating but which are not required to be classified under Canadian regulations, no Canadian icon is required.


It is suggested that the icon not appear in any advisory which precedes a program, but rather be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the actual show, following the advisory.


There is no regulatory requirement to report how a show was rated on the program log which is filed with the CRTC. However, a record of how a program was rated should be retained for a minimum of 30 days in the event of a viewer complaint.

TV Listings

Program services are requested to add the classification information to their program schedules that are filed with the various tv listings services. This will allow the ratings to be included in the various TV guides.

A document was created for English-language broadcasters which outlines the above Technical Specifications and Icon Use Protocols and provides additional background information about the AGVOT system. Click here to access that Broadcaster Manual for Canadian Program Classification System (Sept 1997).