FTC Releases Second Follow-Up Report on the Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children

Motion Picture and Electronic Game Industries Have Demonstrated Commendable Progress; Recording Industry Has Not Changed Target Marketing Practices, But Has Made Improvements in Other Areas

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today released a follow-up report to its September 2000 Report, Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries. The Report responds to a request from Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Max Cleland (D-GA), and Sam Brownback (R-KS) of the Senate Commerce Committee. The senators requested that the Commission examine whether the entertainment media industries continue to advertise violent R-rated movies, explicit-content labeled music, and M-rated electronic games in popular teen media and whether they are including rating information in their advertising.

To prepare this Report, the Commission tracked advertising placement in media popular with youth and reviewed advertisements in all media - print, television, radio, and the Internet - to determine whether the advertisements include clear and prominent rating and labeling information. In addition, the Commission reviewed internal company documents provided by nine individual industry members, including marketing plans for certain R-rated movies, explicit-content labeled music, and M-rated games released since the Commission's September 2000 Report.

The Report indicates that the motion picture and electronic game industries have "made commendable progress in limiting their advertising to children of R-rated movies and M-rated games and in providing rating information in advertising." The Commission's review of ad placements by the music industry, however, found that "it has continued to advertise explicit content recordings in most popular teen venues in all media," although there were "improvements in the music industry's disclosure of parental advisory label information in its advertising."

The Report also points to a number of companies in each industry that have adopted best practices that go beyond the industry self-regulatory programs.

Some key findings about each industry's marketing of violent entertainment material include:

  • Movies: The Commission's review of studio marketing plans for six violent R-rated and three violent PG-13-rated films revealed no express targeting of either R-rated films to children under 17, or PG-13-rated films to children under 13. In reviewing marketing practices, the Commission found no ads for R-rated movies in popular teen magazines and little promotion of R-rated films in locations popular with teens. Its check of trailers for R-rated movies revealed none were shown before G- and PG-rated feature films.

The one popular teen venue where studios continued to advertise R-rated films was television. The Motion Picture Association of America has set no specific limits on ad placements, and though some, but not all, studios have announced they will not advertise R-rated movies in venues with a 35 percent or more youth audience share, this threshold permits continued advertising on the programs with the largest number of teen viewers.

The Commission found that the movie industry has made real progress in disclosing rating information in its advertising. Studios now routinely disclose both ratings and reasons for ratings in their television, print, radio, outdoor, and online advertisements - a significant improvement since the September 2000 Report. Although the Commission identified a number of studios that have done a good job in making their disclosures clear and conspicuous, it also found that a significant percentage of rating reasons were not readable.

  • Music: Marketing documents for 13 explicit-content labeled recordings included plans for extensive advertising in the most popular teen venues - television, radio, print, and online. In the music industry's view, advertising targeted to all ages is consistent with its parental advisory labeling program which, unlike the rating programs for movies and electronic games, does not specifically designate an age for which labeled music may be inappropriate.

Regarding the disclosure of parental advisory label information in its advertising, the Commission found that recording companies increasingly are complying with recently

announced industry-wide guidelines that the parental advisory be included in all advertising of explicit-content labeled recordings. Although a promising start and a clear improvement since the September 2000 Report, continued efforts will be needed to achieve widespread compliance.

Because the industry's labeling program does not call for providing the reasons for the labels, such information is not part of the labeling or advertising disclosures.

  • Games: For the electronic game industry, the Commission found continued positive steps to limit ad placements for M-rated games in popular teen media. The Commission found little advertising on popular teen television programs. However, in its review of marketing documents for 14 violent M-rated games, the Commission found that all planned at least some ad placements in media venues popular with teens; two expressly targeted an under-17 audience. The Commission also found continued placements of advertising for M-rated games in youth-oriented magazines and popular teen Web sites.

The Commission found that the game industry has made substantial progress in providing accurate and prominent rating information in advertising. With a revised game industry code now in place that strengthens and clarifies disclosure requirements across all media, there remain only a few key areas where the code and compliance need strengthening.

  • Undercover Shopper Survey: For this Report, the Commission again conducted an undercover "mystery" shopper survey, as it did for the September 2000 Report, to determine whether unaccompanied 13- to -16-year-olds could purchase tickets to R-rated movies, explicit-content labeled recordings, and M-rated games. The survey was designed to assess any changes made in response to the Commission's recommendation in the September 2000 Report that all three industries improve their self-regulatory efforts by increasing retail level compliance by, for example, requiring identification or parental permission for sales to children. The results indicate that unlike the commendable progress by the movie and electronic game producers, retailers have made few changes since the first survey. Nearly half (48 percent) of the theaters sold tickets to R-rated movies to the underage moviegoers, while 90 percent of the music retailers sold explicit-content recordings to the underage shoppers; neither of these results represents a significant change from the practices documented in the first survey. Electronic game retailers showed modest improvement in restricting the purchase of M-rated games compared to last year, with 78 percent allowing shoppers to purchase M-rated games (compared to 85 percent earlier).

The Commission approved the Report by a 5-0 vote. Commissioner Orson Swindle issued a concurring statement.

in which he emphasizes the lack of serious attention by the music industry and retailers to the Commission's recommendations in its two earlier reports and urges Congress, parents, and the general public to persuade the music industry and retailers to change their behavior.

Copies of the Report are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad.

(FTC Matter No. P994511)
(MVEC 12-5-01)

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