Commission Calls for Additional Industry Steps to Improve Existing Rating Systems
The Federal Trade Commission today released its report titled "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Review of Self-Regulation and Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries." The Report was conducted in response to a request from President Clinton on June 1, 1999, as well as similar requests from Members of Congress, to answer two questions about the marketing of violent entertainment material: Do the industries promote products they themselves acknowledge warrant parental caution in venues where children make up a substantial percentage of the audience? And are these advertisements intended to attract children and teenagers? The report found that "for all three segments of the entertainment industry, the answers are plainly 'yes.'"
The report finds that while the entertainment industry has taken steps to identify content that may not be appropriate for children, the companies in those industries still routinely target children under 17 in their marketing of products their own ratings systems deem inappropriate or warrant parental caution due to violent content. The FTC found evidence of marketing and media plans that expressly target children under 17, and promote and advertise products in media outlets most likely to reach children under 17. The report also publishes an FTC survey that shows children under 17 are frequently able to buy tickets to R-rated movies without parental accompaniment and purchase music recordings and electronic games with parental advisory labels or are restricted to an older audience.
In response to these findings, the Commission recommends additional action by the industry to enhance their self-regulatory efforts. The report makes no legislative recommendations to Congress on this issue.
According to FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, the report illustrates clear shortcomings in industry efforts to limit access to age-inappropriate material to children. "Companies in the entertainment industry routinely undercut their own rating restrictions by target marketing violent films, records, and video games to young audiences. These industries can and should do better than this report illustrates."
The report makes the following key findings about the marketing of violent entertainment material by the industry:
Movies: Of the 44 movies rated R for violence the Commission selected for its study, the Commission found that 35, or 80 percent, were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans for 28 of those 44, or 64 percent, contained express statements that the films target audience included children under 17. Plans for the other seven movies were either extremely similar to the plans of the films that did identify an under-17 target audience, or they detailed plans indicating they were targeting that age group, such as promoting the film in high schools or publications with majority under-17 audiences.
Music: Of the 55 music recordings with explicit content labels the Commission selected for its review, the Commission found that all were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans for 15, or 27 percent, expressly identified children under 17 as part of their target audience. The documents for the remaining 40 explicit-content labeled recordings did not expressly state the age of the target audience, but detailed plans indicating they were targeting that age group, including placing advertising in media that would reach a majority or substantial percentage of children under 17.
Games: Of the 118 electronic games with a Mature rating for violence, the Commission selected for its study, 83, or 70 percent, targeted children under 17. The marketing plans for 60 of these, or 51 percent, expressly included children under 17 in the target audience. Documents for the remaining 23 games showed plans to advertise in magazines or on television shows with a majority or substantial under-17 audience.
In addition to the information gathered on marketing, the FTC conducted studies from May-July 2000 on children's ability to buy violent entertainment material, which found most retailers make little effort to restrict children's access to products with violent content. Just under half the movie theaters admitted children ages 13 to 16 to R-rated films even when not accompanied by an adult. The surveys also revealed that unaccompanied children ages 13 to 16 were able to buy both explicit recordings and Mature-rated electronic games 85 percent of the time.
Self-regulation is especially critical in this area, given the First Amendment protections that prohibit government regulation of these products' content. While the industries reviewed have taken positive steps to address some of these concerns over the last year, the Commission believes that all three industries should do more to enhance their self-regulatory efforts. The industry should:
Establish or expand codes that prohibit target marketing to children and impose sanctions for violations. All three industries should improve the usefulness of their ratings and labels by establishing codes that prohibit marketing R-rated/M-rated/explicit-labeled products in media or venues with a substantial under-17 audience. In addition, the Commission suggests that each industry's trade associations monitor and encourage their members' compliance with these policies and impose meaningful sanctions for non-compliance.
Increase compliance at the retail level by checking identification or requiring parental permission before selling tickets to R movies, and by not selling or renting products labeled "Explicit" or rated R or M, to children under 17.
Increase parental understanding of the ratings and labels by including the reasons for the rating or the label in all advertising and product packaging. The Commission also calls on the industry to continue efforts to educate parents -- and children -- about the meanings of ratings and descriptors.
According to the Commission, implementation of these suggestions would significantly improve the present self-regulatory regimes: "Self-regulatory programs can work only if the concerned industry associations monitor compliance and ensure that violations have consequences." In addition, the Commission believes that "continuous public oversight is also required and that Congress should continue to monitor the progress of self-regulation in this area."
The report was approved by the Commission by a vote of 5-0.
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; toll-free: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
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(FTC Matter No. 994511)