LOS ANGELES — Television has become less infused with sex and violence over the past few years but movies are unchanged, according to a study released Thursday by a Washington think tank.
The findings about television apply both to broadcast and cable, with premium cable channels showing even steeper drops in sexual and violent content, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
The report represents “a victory of sorts for an industry that has been criticized on this score for some time,” Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said in a statement. He has been among those critics.
“There is evidence that television has started to clean up its act,” the nonpartisan center said in its report.
The only exception to the decline was on basic cable networks, which showed an increase in violence and the same amount of sexual content.
As for movies, the study found, the amount of sex and violence in the most popular theatrical releases during the same time periods remained unchanged.
The 50 top-grossing films averaged identical rates in 1998 and 2000, with seven scenes of sexual material and 15 scenes of violence per film in both years.
The most violent movies of 2000 were “The Patriot” with 159 violent scenes, “Gladiator” with 110, “Mission Impossible II” with 108 and “Shanghai Noon” with 99.
According to the study, sexual content dropped 29 percent on all television outlets in primetime, from 17 scenes per hour in the 1998-99 season to 12 scenes per hour in 2000-01.
There was a 27 percent drop in sexual content on broadcast television, while shows on premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime averaged a 49 percent decline, the study found.
Seventeen percent less primetime violence was found on TV overall. The decrease was 11 percent on broadcast and a whopping 65 percent on premium cable.
The series with the most sexual content was UPN’s “Girlfriends,” which averaged 25 scenes of sexual material per episode. The most violent show overall was the syndicated drama “Xena: Warrior Princess,” which averaged 63 scenes of violence per episode.
The findings are ironic in light of broadcast network laments about competing with cable’s looser standards. Last year, NBC Chairman Robert Wright solicited input from his executives on meeting the threat of hits like HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
The picture was different for basic cable, however, which includes channels like USA and TNN. Violence was up 20 percent, with the most violent show being USA’s “La Femme Nikita.”
Another study this year, from the Parents Television Council, found vulgarity and violence on basic cable to be double that of broadcast TV.
Overall, programs with sex were more likely to receive a cautionary rating of TV-14 (for children 14 and older) or above. Many highly violent programs continued to receive PG ratings.
The report is part of an ongoing study of sex, violence and vulgar language in popular culture.
Researchers analyzed the content of 284 episodes from TV series, apart from daytime serial and children’s programming, that ran during the 2000-01 season on cable and broadcast and compared the results with a similar sample from 1998-99.