History of AGVOT and Ratings Classifications in Canada

The Action Group on Violence On Television (AGVOT) was formed in February 1993 following a conference on television violence and its effects on children. AGVOT was created to enable the Canadian broadcasting and cable television industries to address the various issues associated with violence on television on a collaborative, industry-wide basis. AGVOT was a unique organization, reflecting Canada’s international leadership in the protection of children.

AGVOT was a non-profit organization. AGVOT’s two co-founding groups were the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA). The CAB is an industry organization representing private radio and television services. The CCTA represented large and small cable television companies (it dissolved in 2006). Other participating members of AGVOT in the 1990s were the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), the Association des producteurs de film et de télévision du Québec (APFTQ), the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and the Alliance for Children and Television (ACT).

The organization began its work under the chairmanship of broadcast journalist and author Laurier LaPierre. He was succeeded by broadcast executive Trina McQueen who in turn handed over the leadership to broadcast executive Al MacKay.

In June 1993 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture released a report entitled Television Violence: Fraying Our Social Fabric. The report recommended the establishment of a classification system for Canadian television under the supervision of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is the government agency responsible for oversight of the Canadian broadcasting system.

Following consultations with public interest groups, the CAB revised its Violence Code to include stricter rules relating to children’s programming, gratuitous violence and the scheduling of violence intended for adults. The CAB also indicated that it was working on a classification system through its participation in AGVOT. The revised CAB Violence Code and commitment regarding classification were accepted by the CRTC in October 1993.

In 1995, the CRTC undertook extensive public consultations to identify strategies for dealing with violence on television and children’s exposure to inappropriate content. It heard from all sectors of the broadcasting industry, as well as community groups and the general public, through written submissions and at oral hearings which it held across the country. As a result of this public and industry input, the CRTC released its Policy on Violence in Television Programming in March 1996. The Policy required broadcasters to develop a classification system that would be mandatory for all Canadian broadcasters and would work with V-chip technology.

Through AGVOT, the Canadian broadcasting, cable and production industries worked together to develop a user-friendly program classification system. The CRTC had asked AGVOT to develop a classification system that would rate only violent content. As it developed the rating system, however, it became clear to AGVOT that a system which focused only on violence would not adequately serve the needs of viewers. There could be programs that contained no violence, yet still not be suitable for younger audiences due to other types of content such as language, nudity, sexuality and/or mature themes. Furthermore, in research conducted for AGVOT, survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed that coarse language, nudity, depictions of sexuality and mature themes should be included in a television classification system. The AGVOT ratings committee subsequently developed a ratings structure which blended all of these content elements into a comprehensive classification system in order to provide even more information to viewers than had been requested by the CRTC.

Building on earlier tests of parental control technology which had been conducted by Shaw Communications, AGVOT conducted a national field trial of V-chip technology in 1997. This testing also included evaluations of the classification system by parents, public interest groups and experts in children’s use of media.

The rating system devised by AGVOT uses consistent and clear guidelines to evaluate the content of television programs. The guidelines focus on violence, but also relate to language and sexual content. The content evaluation is assigned a rating according to the generally-accepted stages of child development.

In June 1997, the CRTC accepted AGVOT’s classification system. The CRTC approved the ratings devised by AGVOT for English-language conventional and specialty broadcasters. In addition, the CRTC acknowledged that French-language broadcasters would use the existing rating system of Québec’s provincial film board, while pay television and pay-per-view services would use the ratings of the provincial film boards of their respective home provinces. English pay television eventually adopted the AGVOT ratings in September 2017 when specialty and pay services were merged into a single category called discretionary services.

Canadian broadcasters began displaying the on-screen ratings icons on their programs in September 1997. By March 2001, all Canadian broadcasters were encoding that rating information into the broadcast signal for use with V-chip technology, since it was around that time that most new television sets over 13 inches in size available for purchase in Canada came equipped with V-chip technology.

By the mid-2000s, V-chip technology and the rating system were well-established in Canada, so AGVOT became less active. Administration of the V-Chip Canada website and responsibility for responding to public inquiries were integrated into the operations of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), which is a self-regulatory agency designed to administer broadcasting codes of standards, including the CAB Violence Code.