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Studios aren’t off FTC hook yet

McCain commends D'Works, WB, others for doing more

WASHINGTON — The show’s not over for some Hollywood studios, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expected to request that the FTC follow up on its investigation of violent entertainment being pitched to kids by answering additional questions.

Word that McCain will continue his crusade to end the marketing of movies rated R for violence to kids under 17 came one day after top studio execs testified in a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee about various marketing practices.

Committee chair McCain wanted to hear what the studios had to say before going back to the FTC and asking for clarification on several points — clarifications that could include additional investigation. He also will track the FTC’s internal study of whether it could bring a deceptive advertising case against the entertainment industry.

“John McCain gets his teeth into something and doesn’t let go,” one Washington insider said.

Praising promo protocol

At Wednesday’s hearing, McCain did take time out to repeatedly commend DreamWorks, Fox Films Entertainment, Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Co. for going beyond a 12-point initiative unveiled earlier this week by the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA). The lawmaker blasted the MPAA’s plan, saying it was flawed and filled with loopholes.

McCain said he regretted that the rest of the studios weren’t willing to do more, even though some did agree to one or two measures beyond the MPAA initiative, or said they would consider doing so. The other studios testifying on Capitol Hill included MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures.

Many of the studios said they regretted any mistakes that might have been made in inappropriately targeting kids. They reminded lawmakers on more than one occasion, however, that kids under 17 can go to R-rated movies when accompanied by a parent or other adult.

DreamWorks, a much younger studio, said it has never targeted kids under 17 in marketing plans for movies rated R for violence.

“We have not, we do not, we will not target children in the marketing of movies rated R for violence,” DreamWorks co-head of motion pictures division Walter Parkes testified.

Ensuring that the studios abide by what was pledged at Wednesday’s hearing, Senate staff will comb through the testimony and draw up a chart of what was promised and by which studio.

“The objective — to raise public pressure as far as you can take it,” one Capitol Hill insider said.

The FTC’s Sept. 11 report concluded a 15-month investigation of marketing practices in the movie, music and vidgame industries. The report was based on confidential industry documents, including internal marketing plans for R-rated movies showing how some studios relied heavily on teen audiences.

Falling short

McCain told the studio chiefs Wednesday that the MPAA initiative doesn’t go far enough, by any measure, to correct the problems revealed in the FTC report.

The initiative, drawn up by MPAA prexy Jack Valenti and endorsed by the studios, curbs the marketing of violent, R-rated movies by banning the inclusion of kids under 17 at test screenings unless accompanied by an adult; provides greater access to information about a film’s particular rating; and bans the attachment of trailers for violent, R-rated movies to G-rated pics.

At the urging of lawmakers, every studio except Paramount also agreed not to attach the same trailers to PG-rated movies, following the lead of DreamWorks, Disney, Fox and Warners.

In another development, Disney, MGM and Warner Bros. agreed at the hearing not to market R-rated movies on kid-oriented Web sites.

And several studios said they would consider a Fox and Warner Bros. plan to refrain from advertising movies rated R for violence when more than 35% of the audience is under 17.

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