Report puts MTV, the WB in high-risk zone

New regs would hamper teen-centric networks

NEW YORK — MTV and the WB, two of the biggest providers of entertainment, stand to suffer the most should the recommendations of the FTC report be adopted.

Ad-industry insiders said that the regulations proposed in the report would severely hamper the teen-friendly WB netlet, which has been the first stop for movie companies looking to target younger demos. “If the WB is not able to accept advertising that profiles an R-rated film, it will significantly limit the networks’ revenues,” said Bob Flood, senior VP of DeWitt Media.

The report singled out the MTV Network as a cable magnet for movie advertising because MTV reaches a greater percentage of teenagers than any other cabler — and teens, a massive moviegoing audience, are easily manipulated by eye-popping marketing campaigns.

An MTV spokeswoman defended the net, however, and said that the network currently asks movie companies to edit commercials that push the boundaries of taste in sex and violence. MTV also doesn’t schedule violent programming, the spokeswoman says, and launches many pro-social campaigns such as the recent one on warning signs that parents should watch for as indications that teenagers may be prone to violence. She adds that more than half of MTV’s audience is over the age of 17.

Shifting to the youth-oriented broadcast net WB, the commission found little indication that R-rated films were deliberately being marketed to children under 12, but it concluded that 6-to-11 year olds are exposed to ads for PG-13 and R-rated movies while watching crossover programs like “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek” on the WB.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fox Family Channel seems to be safely out of the FTC’s line of fire. The Fox-owned cabler, which features teen shows like “Freaks and Geeks,” does not accept ads for R-rated movies.

Various cable sources said that instead of singling out cable as a scapegoat, the commission should be cracking down on movie theaters that fail to check for ID cards and routinely let kids under 17 waltz into theaters playing R-rated movies. “If kids couldn’t get into R-rated movies,” one cable official said, “it wouldn’t matter if some of them were seeing promos for the movies on our network.”

Caught in Web?

The Web is also a great place to market to teenagers. Being media- and technology-savvy, teens represent one of the most coveted groups for online advertisers eager to hawk movies, music and, especially, video games.

That means teens stand a good chance of seeing ads for movies, records or games on the ‘Net that might be better suited for older viewers, especially if these ads are shown on sites that cater directly to younger age groups, like the popular portals Alloy.com, Bolt.com and Teen.com

But that’s no reason to bring the government into it, says Melissa Rekos, Teen.com editor-in-chief. Rekos, whose site offers news, entertainment, chats and other teen content, thinks the task of deciding what’s appropriate for her audience is best left to the sites themselves.

“We try to walk the rope between what we know teenagers are looking for and what we’d rather they went elsewhere to find,” Rekos said.

For example, Teen.com is doing a promotional piece for the new Cameron Crowe pic “Almost Famous.” While it’s rated R, the film’s content, including adult language and drug use, is an issue that teens also deal with, so it’s worth addressing.

By contrast, Rekos chose not to cover or run ads for “American Beauty” because of its depiction of sexuality between adults and children, as well as brief but extreme violence.

Pic “is rated R, but for different reasons,” she said. “For our audience, there are some contexts that are just inappropriate.”

Self-policing

But that decision is best left to the sites themselves, she contended. If the government were to step in to prevent certain content from ever reaching teen eyes on the Web, much of the appeal of the medium would be lost.

“Government intervention would really diminish some of wonderful things about the Internet,” Rekos said, “including the frank and honest conversations that occur between teens about some of these topics.”

On the magazine front, a spokeswoman for Prime Media, which publishes Seventeen, said the mag doesn’t sell many of its pages for R-rated movie ads. And the ads it does take are vetted carefully by Seventeen officials to make sure they’re appropriate to a teenage readership.

(Jonathan Bing and Paula Bernstein contributed to this report.)

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