Rushing to appease Washington, the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday unveiled policies restricting the marketing of its R-rated films and setting guidelines for the handling of other studios’ ads on its ABC TV network.
Disney is the first entertainment conglom to respond to a blistering FTC report released Monday. The 104-page document accuses the industry of doing an end-run around its own rating systems by marketing adult content to younger audiences.
Today, MPA president Jack Valenti is likely to refer to Disney’s new plan when testifying before a special hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Mouse House officials said they had been working on the policies for several months, but waited to announce them until they saw the actual report.
“What we’re doing is saying we think we’re being responsible and we’re going to strengthen our voluntary policies and tell people what we’re doing,” said Mouse House spokesman John Dreyer.
Most Beltway insiders weren’t surprised at Disney’s action. Ditto in Hollywood, as many studios are in regular talks with the FTC and knew that the Disney announcement was coming.
Dryer added that major studios have long known they were the subject of scrutiny. “I’d be surprised if anyone in the industry didn’t feel like there was room for improvement,” he said.
Miramax spokeswoman Marcy Granata said of the Disney plan, “We were consulted on it and we embrace it. The spirit behind the policy is to give more information to parents.”
Execs at other studios remained skittish about issues surrounding the Federal Trade Commission report. Those reached Tuesday opted not to comment pending Valenti’s testimony.
“We’d rather let Jack speak for the industry,” said one.
The six Disney objectives closely follow many of the recommendations outlined in the FTC report. The most provocative of the six is the ban on ads for R-rated movie on ABC before 9 p.m. Dryer said that policy has already been implemented.
Industry sources said the Alphabet web in the past had accepted ads for R-rated movies before 9 p.m., but only during older-skewing shows.
The thornier issue for Walt Disney is how to keep its TV ads for R-rated movies away from kids under 17.
For example, says John Mattimore, senior VP and associate media director for BBDO New York, even if Disney wants to focus its ad for an R pic on, say, men 21-24 in the MTV audience, teenage boys are watching the same programming. So these teenagers will still get exposed to the trailer for the R-rated movie.
And Mattimore said that it’ll be hard for an MTV to accommodate Disney if it asks for all of its blurbs for R-rated movies to run after 9 p.m. (as Disney is doing with ABC) because MTV is accustomed to selling ads that run throughout its schedule.
If a number of advertisers began demanding daypart exclusivity for their spots on high-teen-appeal networks like MTV, these networks “would be hard-pressed” to accommodate the requests, he said. An MTV spokeswoman declined to comment.
Pointing to a specific example, Mattimore said he had to pull Miller beer ads from “X-Games” on ESPN because the audience for the games kept getting younger and younger. When the demographics of “X-Games” reached the unacceptable tipping point where the percentage of viewers 17 and under was greater proportionately than that of the entire country, BBDO stopped advertising Miller beer in the programs.
The movie ad category in primetime accounts for upward of $750 million in revenue a year for ABC, said an ad agency insider. A significant portion of that derives from R-rated films.
The other item that could prompt significant changes by Disney and its units concerns the targeting of kids under 17 during the research and tracking phases of marketing. The Miramax banner Dimension Films has been among those criticized for disregarding ratings in favor of grosses.
Disney dismissed as “speculative” the suggestion that the company could be sacrificing revenue by adopting the stricter marketing policies.
“Just as money flows from being creative, it also flows from being responsible,” Dryer said.
(Paula Bernstein and John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)