Undercover Shoppers Find It Increasingly Difficult for Children to Buy M-Rated Games

Results Show Need for Continued Improvement by Movie, Music, and Some Game Retailers

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today released the results of its latest nationwide undercover shop of movie theaters and movie, music, and video game retailers. The FTC conducted a survey with 13-to-16-year-old undercover shoppers to collect data about the extent to which retailers prevent unaccompanied children from buying tickets to R-rated movies, R-rated DVDs, Unrated DVDs of movies that were R-rated in theaters, M-rated video games, and music CDs labeled with a Parental Advisory Label – “PAL” – for explicit content.

The survey found that 20% of underage teenage shoppers were able to buy M-rated video games, a major improvement from all prior surveys, and down from 42% in 2006. While CD and DVD retailers demonstrated some improvement since the 2006 survey, roughly half of the undercover shoppers still were able to purchase R-rated and Unrated movie DVDs and PAL music CDs. The fact that so many children were able to purchase Unrated movie DVDs – some of which contain content that, if rated, might result in an NC-17 rating – indicates that retailers need to re-double their efforts in this area. Although movie theaters have improved since the 2000 shop, they still sold R-rated movie tickets to unaccompanied children 35% of the time, demonstrating no statistically significant improvement in ratings enforcement since 2003.

Figure 1: Frequency Children Bought Product or Ticket
CORRECTED: May 16, 2008

The survey found that results of the undercover shopping varied by retailer and product. Three movie chains – National Entertainment, Regal Entertainment Group, and American Multi-Cinema – turned away 80% or more of the underage teens who tried to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie. Wal-Mart did the best of the major retailers shopped for movie DVDs, denying sales of R-rated and Unrated DVDs to 75% of the child shoppers.

With regard to M-rated video games, Game Stop rejected an impressive 94% of underage shoppers, while Wal-Mart and Best Buy spurned 80% of them. Some stores had very different results for different media. For example, while Best Buy rejected 80% of underage buyers of video games, it turned away underage shoppers for PAL music only 47% of the time, R-rated movie DVDs only 38% of the time, and Unrated movie DVDs only 17% of the time. Similarly, Target refused to sell M-rated games to underage buyers 71% of the time, but refused sales of PAL music only 40% of the time, R-rated movie DVDs only 35% of the time, and Unrated movie DVDs in only 23% of the cases.

Tables A through E break down the survey results by theater chain and retailer. The number of shops for each reflected that chain’s or retailer’s share of the market.

Table A:  Movie Theater Tickets (R-Rated)
Chain
# of Shops
% Able to Purchase
National Amusements
15
13%
Regal Entertainment Group
51
18%
American Multi-Cinema
35
20%
Cinemark USA
27
33%
Other
59
42%
Hollywood Theaters
15
47%
Marcus Theaters
15
47%
Carmike Cinemas
18
56%
Kerasotes Theaters
15
80%

Table B:  Movie DVDs (R-Rated)
Chain
# of Shops
% Able to Purchase
 Wal-Mart
72
25%
Circuit City
16
31%
Borders
15
33%
Grocery stores
15
47%
Kmart
17
47%
Blockbuster
15
53%
Best Buy
34
62%
Barnes & Noble
14
64%
Target
31
65%
Transworld Ent.
18
78%

Table C:  Movie DVDs (Unrated)
Chain
# of Shops
% Able to Purchase
 Kmart
15
20%
Wal-Mart
74
24%
Circuit City
14
29%
Grocery stores
14
36%
Borders
14
50%
Blockbuster
16
56%
Target
29
76%
Transworld Ent.
18
78%
Best Buy
32
81%
Barnes & Noble
15
87%
CORRECTED: May 16, 2008

 

Table D: Video Games (M-Rated)
Chain
# of Shops
% Able to Purchase
 Game Stop/EB Games
66
6%
Wal-Mart
62
18%
Best Buy
35
20%
Toys R Us
15
27%
Target
28
29%
Kmart
16
31%
Circuit City
16
38%
Hollywood Video
15
40%

Table E:   Music CDs (PAL)
Chain
# of Shops
% Able to Purchase
 Kmart
12
17%
Other
44
41%
Circuit City
14
50%
Best Buy
53
53%
Virgin Megastore
15
53%
Target
30
60%
Borders
15
67%
Barnes & Noble
15
73%
Transworld Ent.
47
77%

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 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 more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.

(08 secret shopper survey – corrected)

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Claudia Bourne Farrell,
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181
STAFF CONTACT:
Keith Fentonmiller,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2775