FTC rates movie biz improved

Studios commended for new, voluntary marketing plan

The government has given the movie biz a qualified thumbs-up on its marketing cleanup efforts, but gave the music biz a less glowing review.

Studios may have stopped deliberately marketing violent, R-rated movies to kids, but they continue to advertise such films on TV programs frequently eyeballed by teens, the Federal Trade Commission concluded it its latest report on the entertainment industry’s efforts to reform marketing practices.

Overall, the FTC commended the major studios for abiding by a new, voluntary marketing plan designed to keep ads for R-rated movies away from kids, as well as making ratings and the reasons for them more prominent.

Report, released Friday, marked the third follow-up to a September 2000 study blasting the movie, music and vidgame industries for blatantly plugging violence to kids.

“The movie and videogame industries should be commended for their continued commitment to responsible marketing of violent material. Since the inception of the FTC’s reports, these industries have made vast improvements to their marketing practices,” said Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the influential House Commerce Committee.

In its latest effort, FTC staffers monitored various cable, network and syndicated TV shows from January to the beginning of April.

Technically, the studios did not break any oath by placing ads for R-rated pics on such shows including “The Simpsons,” “That ’80s Show” or “Malcolm in the Middle.” Some studios — led by Warner Bros. — only agreed to stay away from shows for which kids rep more than 35% of the audience.

None of the shows monitored by FTC staffers fell in the 35% category.

That didn’t stop the FTC from scolding the movie biz for promoting R-rating pics — including “Collateral Damage,” “Queen of the Damned” and “When We Were Soldiers” — on shows with “substantial youth audiences.”

The report also said that ratings in movie ads are often hard for TV viewers to decipher.

‘Room for improvement’

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), a longtime critic of Hollywood, also was among those commending studios for largely living by their promises.

“The report shows that the movie and videogame industries are continuing to make progress in stopping the deceptive practice of directly marketing adult-rated products to children, and that their self-regulatory systems are working,” Lieberman said. “That’s good news for America’s parents, and good citizenship from the movie and game producers.”

Lieberman said there is still “real room for improvement,” noting the FTC’s conclusion that a movie’s rating, and the reasons for the rating, are still difficult to read in most advertisements. “That defeats the purpose of disclosure, and that needs to change.”

Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti said the industry was pleased with the results of the latest report overall and that the movie biz has been working for several years to implement stricter measures on marketing to kids.

“We had expected this; we’d been meeting with their staff and we knew they wouldn’t find anything that was real,” Valenti said in an interview. “We take great pride in the fact that we’ve made our pledges and we’ve seen them through.”

Music ads rebuked

The review for the music biz was markedly less glowing, but the FTC still had a few nice things to say about the record execs’ efforts.

Report complained yet again that labels are still advertising records with explicit lyrics on TV shows and in magazines popular with teens. But the FTC also noted that the majors have made progress in displaying their customary “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” warnings in its print and TV ads.

Hilary Rosen, chairman of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, conceded that the industry’s efforts were still a work in progress, but maintained that it has made considerable progress.

“We continue to strengthen our efforts to educate parents and consumers alike about our voluntary parental advisory program,” Rosen said in a statement. “We appreciate the commissioners’ recognition of the strides we have made in furthering our parental advisory program and giving the tools to parents that they need and want.”

Tauzin said he was “deeply disappointed” by the recording industry’s lack of response to the shortcomings noted by the FTC.

“The FTC review of explicit-content music ad placements showed virtually no change since their initial report nearly two years ago,” Tauzin said. “I wonder how high we need to turn up the amp before the music industry hears what Congress, the FTC and concerned parents have been saying.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) echoed Tauzin’s thoughts.

The FTC singled out major-label group BMG Entertainment for praise. Earlier this month, BMG unilaterally committed to revising its warning system to include more specific information, indicating the type of explicit content on each record. The major also said it would be more vigilant in including the warnings in all its ads.

The electronic gaming business got more or less a clean bill of health from the FTC. Commission praised the industry for sticking to self-imposed guidelines limiting ads for “M” (mature) rated games to TV shows with less than 35% teen auds and print outlets with less than 45%.

“Although some areas still could be improved, for example content descriptors in television advertising, there is much in the game industry’s rating disclosure requirements that merits duplication by others,” the report said.

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