Violence on prime-time TV is rising

Twenty years ago, research indicated that by the time an average child left elementary school, he or she would have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence on TV. By the time that child reached 18, he or she was expected to have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.1 Given that the average child watches more TV two decades later and that TV has grown increasingly violent, those numbers are likely to be significantly higher today.

According to a comparison of broadcast programming between 1998 and 2003-06, the Parents Television Council (PTC) found that: 2

  • Between 1998 and 2006 violence increased in every time slot:
    • Violence during the 8:00 p.m. family hour increased by 45%
    • Violence during the 9:00 p.m. hour increased by 92%
    • Violence during the 10:00 p.m. hour increased by 167%
  • In 1998, ABC averaged only 0.13 instances of violence per hour.  By 2006, ABC was averaging 2.23 instances of violence during the 8:00 p.m. hour, an increase of 1,615 %.
  • The 2005-2006 television season averaged 4.41 instances of violence per hour during prime time – an increase of 75% from1998.
    • 49% of all episodes airing during the study period in 2005-06 contained at least one instance of violence.
    • 56% of all violence on prime-time network television was person-on-person violence.
    • 54% of violent scenes contained either a depiction of death (13%) or an implied death (41%).


Violence against women growing
In 2009, the Parents Television Council released a report detailing violence against women on prime-time network television. PTC President Tim Winter said:

“Our new research points to a disturbing trend: by depicting violence against women with increasing frequency, or as a trivial, even humorous matter, the broadcast networks may ultimately be contributing to a desensitized atmosphere in which people view aggression and violence directed at women as normative, even acceptable.”

The PTC reviewed more than 200 hours of programming from the 2004 and 2009 seasons and found that:3

  • All violence on television increased only 2% from 2004 to 2009, while violence against women increased 120% during that same period.
  • The most frequent type of violence against women on television was beating (29%), threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%) and torture (2%).  Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time.
  • Violence toward women or the graphic consequences of violence toward women tended overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).
  • Although female victims were primarily adults, there was a 400% increase in the depiction of teen girls as victims across all networks from 2004 to 2009.

1 A.C. Huston, et al., “Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society,” Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

2 “Dying to Entertain: Violence on Prime Time Broadcast Television 1998-2006,” Parents Television Council, January 2007, http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/violencestudy/DyingtoEntertain.pdf

3 “Women in Peril: A Look at TV’s Disturbing New Storyline Trend,” October 28, 2009, http://www.parentstv.org/womeninperil

Copyright © 2013, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.