Watershed (television)

Watershed (television)

The Watershed is a term used to describe a time in television schedules which divides the period when it is permissible to show television programmes which have 'adult content' from the period when it is not. Adult content can be generally defined as having nudity, explicit sexual intercourse, graphic violence, strong language, or drug references or use.

Watersheds by country


On Australian television MA15+ programmes are not allowed to be shown before 9:00pm at night. However, the time difference between New South Wales and Queensland during daylight saving in the former, and the fact that some stations that broadcast into southern Queensland from northern New South Wales (specifically the Gold Coast), effectively pushed the watershed time back to 8.30pm. Complaints from concerned citizens forced these stations to broadcast as per local time.

Since its inception in 1995 Pay TV channel Adults Only has only broadcast from 10:45pm (9:45pm at times) until 4:45am. Although it is advertised until 6:00am, it broadcasts only a test signal in the intervening time. However since the inception of Adults Only Select (a pay-per-view service) in 2004, it has all but eliminated the watershed time.

Austria, Germany and Switzerland

In the main German-speaking countries, the watershed is between 10:00pm and 5:30am. However, programmes marked "Keine Jugendfreigabe" (not approved for minors) under FSK may only be shown after 11:00pm.


The watershed starts at 9:00pm, and finishes at 6:00am the next morning [ [http://www.cbsc.ca/english/faqs/standards.php Questions Concerning Broadcast Standards] , Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, September 2008] . Sexually explicit content, some offensive language and other adult material is not allowed outside the watershed.

"See also: Censorship in Canada"


In Finland, all the major television companies (YLE, MTV3 and Nelonen Media) have agreed not to show 11 rated content before 17:00, 15 rated content before 21:00 and 18 rated content before 23:00. 15 and 18 rated programs are marked on the schedule with K15 or K18 respectively but 11 rated content is not marked. In 2008 a K13 rating was introduced. Content with a K13 rating is not shown before 19:00. Television channels use their own discretion to decide the ratings.


Greek TV uses a triple-tier watershed, along with a five-tier color-coded decal scheme, displayed in the beginning and in regular intervals during all broadcasts except for news bulletins. A white diamond in green indicates programming that is suitable for all ages and times of day. A white circle in blue ("Suitable for children, but parental consent is desired") is used in cases that may potentially upset children. A white triangle in orange ("Suitable for minors, but parental consent is necessary") indicates mild violence or language that will upset younger children, and such programming is only allowed between 7 PM and 6 AM. A white square in purple ("Unsuitable for viewers under the age of 15") indicates foul language, violence, or erotic -but not explicit- situations and such programming is only allowed between 9 PM and 6 AM. A white X in red ("Adults only") indicates programming allowed only between midnight and 6 AM. Foul language before midnight is punishable by fine, except when used in the context of a suitably labelled movie film, theatrical play, etc. The color-coded ratings are mandatorily displayed and verbally announced at the beginning of each broadcast. These provisions are enforced by the National Radio and Television Council (ESR), an independent authority, the executive members of which are appointed by the leaders of all parliamentary parties, preferably by unanimous consent and in extremis by an 80% supermajority.


The watershed in Ireland starts at 9.00pm and finishes at 5.30am the next morning. [ [http://www.bcc.ie/decisions_details/Apr%202007/26%2007%20m%20ward%20summary%20apr07.doc Broadcasting Complaints Commission response to a complaint; Retrieved on 2008-04-20] ] On premium film or pay-per-view services requiring a subscription, the watershed starts at 8.00pm. However, 12, 15 and 18 rated films can be shown on PIN protected channels (such as Sky Movies) at any time of the day. Viewers are required to enter their PIN to view.

"See also: Media in Ireland"

New Zealand

On free-to-air channels (but not SKY) programming rated Adults Only is only allowed between 8:30pm and 5:00am. Adults Only programming is also allowed to air between midday and 3:00pm on school days (this situation is probably unique to New Zealand). Sports programming and news bulletins are exempt from the system altogether, but should still carry warnings before certain stories.

United Kingdom

According to Ofcom, the watershed on standard television in the UK starts at 9:00pm, and finishes at 5:30am the next morning. Programmes that are 15+ are shown. However, Some 12+ Shows can be shown before 9:00pm, such as The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle. On premium film or pay-per-view services requiring a subscription, the watershed starts at 8:00pm. However, 12, 15 and 18 rated films can be shown on PIN protected channels (such as Sky Movies) at any time of the day. Viewers are required to enter their PIN to view. There should be a gentle transition to adult material, and 18-rated material is not allowed to be shown before 9:00pm.

"See also for the UK: [http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/bcode/protectingu18/ The Ofcom Broadcasting Code - Section 1] "

United States

The term "watershed" is not used in this context in the United States. In the US, the "safe harbor" for "indecent" programming begins at 10:00pm and ends at 6:00am the next morning (all time zones). However, content that is considered "obscene" (including explicit human sexual intercourse) is never allowed by the FCC rules for broadcast stations. Those content rules only apply to channels broadcast terrestrially and not those only available on cable. Consequently, restricted-access networks (like the premium channels HBO and Showtime and adult channels Playboy TV and Spice) have taken advantage of considerably more leeway in their programming.

Some American television scenes famous for "pushing the envelope" (such as limited nudity on "NYPD Blue") were aired in the 10:00pm-11:00pm hour; however, these broadcasts were before the Safe Harbor in the Central and Mountain time zones, where programming scheduled for 10:00pm EST would typically be broadcast starting at 9:00pm (using a one-hour delay in Mountain time).

Because the FCC interprets safe harbor times as local time, some network affiliates can be fined for airing an "indecent" program simultaneously with another station whose broadcast is officially at a later time and wouldn't be fined. Such was the case with CBS, whose affiliates were fined USD $3.63 million for a repeat of the episode "Our Sons and Daughters" of "Without a Trace" in December 2004. The program was flagged for depicting an orgy involving teenagers. [ [http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/ealerts/2005/0112.asp CBS Reruns Teen Orgy Scene] , Parents Television Council (PTC), January 2005] [ [http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/action/withoutatrace/content.asp FCC Rightly Fined CBS for Violating Terms of 2004 Consent Decree] , PTC, March 2006] It was televised at 10:00pm in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (within the watershed), but at 9:00pm in Central and Mountain times (outside the watershed). The FCC split its fine among the 111 CBS affiliates covering these time zones. It is still being appealed by those stations. [http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6457447.html]

In the 1970s, the ill-fated Family Viewing Hour tried to make the 8:00pm-9:00pm hour (7-8 pm Central/Mountain) safe for family consumption, but was overturned in court due to the way it was instituted.


External links

* [http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/bcode/protectingu18/ The Ofcom Broadcasting Code - Section 1]
* [http://www.cbsc.ca/english/faqs/standards.php#7 Canadian Broadcast Standards Council - What is the Watershed?]

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