The Federal Trade Commission today issued a new follow-up Report to Congress on the marketing of violent movies, music, and video games to children. This new Report shows continued progress in providing rating information in ads and improvement in limiting sales of R-rated movie tickets, but little overall change in industry ad placement. The Report includes a review of marketing documents from nine industry members, as well as the results of ongoing FTC monitoring of advertising practices. It also reports on an FTC-sponsored Public Workshop, held in October 2003, at which industry and consumer groups discussed the state of self-regulation in the motion picture, music recording, and electronic game industries, as well as the results of an undercover “mystery shopper” survey conducted in the summer of 2003, in which young teens attempted to purchase tickets to R-rated movies and buy explicit-content labeled CDs, R-rated movie DVDs, and M-rated games.
The Report issued today is the fourth follow-up review the Commission has issued. To prepare the Report, the FTC tracked advertising placements in media popular with youth, reviewed ads in major media to determine whether they included rating information, and reviewed retail packaging for music products to assess the industry’s level of compliance on the size and placement of Parental Advisory Labels. The Commission also reviewed marketing plans from nine industry members for R- and PG-13-rated movies, explicit-content labeled music, and M- and T-rated video games.
The follow-up Report shows that the movie and game industries continue to comply, for the most part, with their self-regulatory limits on ad placements, and that the music industry has made some progress in this area as well. The companies also generally disclose clear andconspicuous rating information in their ads, but retailers are not generally doing so. The Commission found that all three industries continue to advertise violent and explicit movies, games, and music in media widely watched by teens – a practice noted in earlier FTC reports. Further, the Commission found that teens can still purchase rated products at many stores and theaters, though the Report notes that the movie industry has made real progress in this area. The FTC concludes that there is room for improvement in all three industries’ self-regulatory activities.
Specific findings include:
- Movies: As did the past three follow-up reports, this Report finds that studios’ marketing plans did not target advertising for the R-rated films reviewed at children under 17, and did not advertise those films in venues where more than 35 percent of the audience was under 17. The Report concludes, however, that the studios continue to advertise violent films on television shows watched by audiences with large numbers of teens. The Report also notes that some studios have begun promoting R-rated films in venues likely to attract young teens, an apparent resurgence of a practice that previously had decreased. The Report concludes that the motion picture industry continues to improve with respect to disclosing film ratings and rating reasons in television, print, and Internet advertising, but that the disclosures sometimes are difficult to see or read in ads and product packaging. The Report notes significant improvement by movie theaters in limiting youth access to R-rated movies – just 36 percent of teen shoppers were able to buy tickets. By contrast, the Report finds that DVD retailers often omit ratings and reasons from their advertising, and sold R-rated DVDs to 81 percent of teen shoppers who attempted to buy them.
- Music: The Report finds that the music industry has substantially curtailed advertising parental advisory-labeled music in magazines popular with teens. The industry, however, continues to advertise music with explicit content on television shows that many teens watch, especially on cable music channels. The music industry has made progress in placing the Parental Advisory Label in print and TV advertising, but the Report concludes that the industry’s overall compliance with labeling requirements has improved only slightly since the FTC’s first Report was issued in September 2000. In addition, for the first time, the FTC also examined commercial online music downloading services. Although all the services studied provided a parental advisory, only a third offered a parental control mechanism to help prevent youth from downloading explicit songs. The Report notes that, at the FTC’s October 2003 Workshop, the music industry’s trade association made a commitment to reinforce the importance of Parental Advisory Labels and encourage online downloading services to implement parental control mechanisms. The FTC’s undercover shopper survey revealed that music retailers had improved slightly in restricting sales of explicit-content labeled recordings to children, especially the youngest shoppers, but that 83 percent of teenaged shoppers were still able to buy the music.
- Electronic Games: The FTC’s Report states that a substantial part of the electronic game industry is complying with industry standards limiting ad placements for Mature (M)-rated games in popular youth-oriented media, but compliance is not universal.
Further, the FTC found that ads for M-rated games continue to appear in game enthusiast magazines popular with teens. Additionally, the Report indicates that Teen (T)-rated games are advertised in media popular with pre-teens (children under 13). The FTC found that the game industry places rating information prominently in ads and on product packaging, and that rating disclosure requirements go far to give parents access to rating information. The Report notes, however, that the industry could improve its efforts to disclose rating information, by including content descriptors in TV ads and on the front of game packages.
The Commission recommends that all three industries improve their efforts to avoid advertising restricted or labeled products in venues popular with under-17 audiences, regardless of whether those audiences reach or exceed 35%. The Commission also recommends that the industries continue to improve their rating information disclosure practices both in advertising and on product packaging. Moreover, the Commission recommends that the music industry, in particular, consider providing more information as to why a particular recording has been labeled with a parental advisory.
With respect to retailers, both brick and mortar and online, the Commission encourages better disclosure of ratings and reasons for ratings in advertising, and more widespread implementation and enforcement of sales policies restricting children’s access to restricted or labeled entertainment media, and, in particular, R-rated DVDs and homes videos, music with a parental advisory, and M-rated games. The Commission found noteworthy that although movie theaters are doing much to restrict children’s access to R-rated motion pictures, DVD retailers of the same movies appear to be doing little to prevent such sales.
The Commission will continue to monitor the entertainment industry's marketing practices. Additionally, the FTC will work with video game publishers and retailers to ensure that T- and M-rated games are marketed or sold to children in keeping with the rating’s age guideline, and will educate parents about video game content. The FTC also has made its toll-free consumer complaint hotline and Web site complaint form available for consumer complaints about media violence.
The FTC has created a new Web site, www.ftc.gov/ratings, to teach parents and kids about entertainment ratings. The site contains a “pocket guide” to entertainment ratings for movies, video games, and music, as well as a complaint function consumers can use to report complaints regarding advertising or sales of violent entertainment to children. The FTC is tracking complaints based on: (1) the content of ads; (2) ad placement; (3) ratings consumers feel are inappropriate for the content; (4) cross-marketing of products to a young audience; and (5) the sale or rental of violent entertainment to children, such as at a retail outlet or movie theater.
The Commission vote to issue the Report was 5-0.
Copies of the Commission’s 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 inEnglish or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. 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 U.S. and abroad.
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