FTC Undercover Shopper Survey on Enforcement of Entertainment Ratings Finds Compliance Worst for Retailers of Music CDs and the Highest Among Video Game Sellers

Most Areas Show Improvement Since Last Survey

For Release

Following an established trend, a Federal Trade Commission undercover shopper survey found that video game retailers continue to enforce most vigorously the ratings governing age and content that were established by the entertainment media industry.  Music CD retailers lag far behind movie theaters, as well as movie DVD and video game retailers, in preventing unaccompanied children under age 17 from purchasing entertainment intended for mature audiences.

“Our undercover shopper survey demonstrates some progress,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer  Protection.  “But more needs to be done.”

The FTC recruited 13- to 16-year-olds, unaccompanied by a parent, to attempt to buy R-rated movie tickets, R-rated movie DVDs, unrated DVDs of movies that were R-rated when first released in theaters, music CDs carrying a Parental Advisory Label (PAL) that warns of explicit content, and video games rated “M” [by the Entertainment Software Rating Board] that may be suitable for persons age 17 and older.  Between November 2010 and January 2011, the teenagers attempted to buy these products from national and regional chain stores and theaters across the United States.

  • Music CDs.  Retailers of explicit-content music demonstrated slight improvement since 2009 in enforcing the Parental Advisory Label – but still generally failed to prevent sales to minors.  Nearly two-thirds of underage shoppers (64 percent) were able to purchase CDs with this label, down from 72 percent in 2009.
  • Movie tickets.  There was no statistically significant change in ratings enforcement at the movie box office.  One-third of underage shoppers bought a ticket to an R-rated movie, up slightly from 28 percent in 2009.
  • Movie DVDs.  Retailers of R-rated and unrated DVDs demonstrated meaningful improvement in ratings enforcement, but there is room for more.  Thirty-eight percent of shoppers purchased R-rated DVDs, compared to 54 percent in 2009.  Forty-seven percent purchased unrated DVDs, down from 58 percent in 2009.      
  • Electronic games.  Thirteen percent of underage teenage shoppers were able to buy M-rated video games, a statistically significant improvement from the 20 percent purchase rate in 2009.

Fequency Children Bought Product or Ticket

‡Data for comparison were not available for R-rated DVDs prior to 2003 and for unrated DVDs prior to 2006.

Parents can learn more about how entertainment media for children are rated here.  This site describes the different ratings systems, and provides links to the organizations that sponsor them. 

Since 2000, when the FTC issued its first report to Congress on marketing violent entertainment to children, the agency has called on the entertainment industry to be more vigilant in three areas:  restricting the marketing of mature-rated products to children; clearly and prominently disclosing rating information; and restricting children’s access to mature-rated products at retail.  The last report to Congress was published in 2009.

The tables below break down the survey results by theater chain and retailer.  The number of undercover shops conducted at each reflected that chain’s or retailer’s relative share of the market.

Explicit-Content Music CDs
Chain # of Shops % Able to Purchase
Barnes & Noble 18 61
Best  Buy 73 59
Borders 21 67
Hastings 15 73
Kmart 17 29
Target 44 77
Transworld 35 60
Other 38 71
 R-rated Movie Theater Tickets
Chain # of Shops % Able to Purchase
American Multi-Cinema 38 11
Carmike Cinemas 15 33
Cinemark USA 27 37
Hollywood Theaters 16 31
Marcus Theaters 15 33
National Amusements 11 45
Rave Motion Pictures 20 30
Regal Entertainment Group 61 26
Other 61 49
R-rated Movie DVDs
Chain # of Shops % Able to Purchase
Barnes & Noble 19 53
Best Buy 44 32
Blockbuster 17 35
Borders 21 38
Kmart 20 35
Target 41 61
Transworld 18 44†
Walmart 92 27
†Results for R-rated DVD sales differ significantly from results for Unrated DVD sales.
Unrated Movie DVDs
Chain # of Shops % Able to Purchase
Barnes & Noble 22 59
Best Buy 46 30
Blockbuster 19 37
Borders 20 65
Kmart 21 38
Target 41 76
Transworld 18 83†
Walmart 79 30
†Results for R-rated DVD sales differ significantly from results for Unrated DVD sales.
M-Rated Games
Chain # of Shops % Able to Purchase
Best Buy 45 16
GameStop 79 9
Kmart 21 10
Target 36 8
Toys R Us 31 10
Walmart 66 20

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers 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, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).  The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.  “Like” the FTC on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter.

(Violent Entertainment to Children Survey NR)
(FTC File No. P994511)

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Betsy Lordan
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-3707
STAFF CONTACT:

Keith Fentonmiller
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2775

Rick Quaresima
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3130