FTC urges changes to marketing standards

Despite some effective self-regulation since 2000, the movie, music and videogame industries continue to market violent content in ways that are easily seen by kids, a Federal Trade Commission report concluded.

Vidgame retailers have made “significant” progress in restricting sales of M-rated games to minors, but movie and music retailers have only posted “modest” improvement on similar sales of adult-oriented product, the researchers found.

“Self-regulation, long a critical underpinning of U.S. advertising, is weakened if industry markets products in ways inconsistent with their ratings and parental advisories,” said Deborah Platt Majoras, head of the FTC, which released the report Thursday. “This latest FTC report shows improvement, but also indicates that the entertainment industry has more work to do.”

Report makes six recommendations, from establishing better target-marketing standards to urging Hollywood to reconsider the marketing and selling of unrated DVD versions of R-rated movies. While the FTC promises to continue monitoring the situation, it also continues to support industry self-regulation.

Report is the fifth in a series the FTC began in 2000, but the agency called the latest “the most comprehensive” of all.

According to the FTC, the new report found that “all three industries generally comply with their own voluntary standards regarding the display of ratings and labels. However, entertainment industries continue to market some R-rated movies, M-rated videogames and explicit-content recordings on television shows and Web sites with substantial teen audiences.”

Using unaccompanied minors, federal researchers learned that 39% could buy a ticket to an R-rated movie last year, compared with 46% in 2000; 71% could buy an R-rated or unrated DVD (compared with 81%); 76% could buy an explicit-lyric CD (compared with 85%); and 42% could buy an M-rated vidgame (compared with 85%, marking the greatest decline).

For Hollywood, the positive findings included acknowledgement that most TV advertising for R-rated movies and unrated DVDs did not appear on shows for which the under-17 aud is greater than 35%, a standard the industry voluntarily adopted. “Nevertheless, the report notes that a 35% standard still permits advertising on the vast majority of shows most popular with teens,” the FTC stated.

Report also noted that the movie industry has adopted no standard for Internet advertising and pointed out that “violent R-rated movies were routinely advertised on Web sites popular with kids: 18 of the 20 movies studied by the commission were advertised on Web sites where more than a third of the audience was under 17. The increasing prevalence of marketing unrated DVDs containing content that might warrant an NC-17 rating, coupled with the poor performance of retailers in restricting the sales of such DVDs to unaccompanied children, is a particular cause for concern.”

However, the MPAA has adopted standards for Internet advertising, specifically calling for no ads for R-rated pics on all-aud Web sites.

Report hailed the recording industry for having significantly cut back ads for explicit-lyric music in magazines popular with teens. Unlike movie studios, the labels have not adopted any percentage-of-audience standard regarding advertising, but the FTC implied they should: “The report notes that ads for explicit-content music routinely aired on cable television shows and Web sites with a teen audience of 40% or more. The industry also needs to do a better job of displaying the explicit-content logo in television advertising.”

The vidgame industry voluntarily agreed not to advertise M-rated games on Web sites with an under-17 aud of 45% or more. The FTC said that while ads for these games are diminishing on TV shows teens like, “The report suggests that the (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) is not adequately enforcing even this limited standard” for the Internet. “The videogame industry generally provides clear and prominent disclosure of rating information in advertising; however, the ESRB has not adopted the commission’s previous recommendation that content descriptors for games be placed on the front of game packaging.” Report also noted that roughly 75% or more of parents find the game rating system useful, but they also feel it could do more.

Industry reps accentuated the positive.

“As today’s report affirms, the movie industry is doing a good job overall providing information to consumers and marketing films in an audience-appropriate manner,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg.

“We’re pleased that the commission recognized the industry’s efforts and progress regarding the use of the Parental Advisory Logo,” said Recording Industry Assn. of America spokesman Jonathan Lamy. “Music is a unique art form that is subject to the interpretation of the listener, and so the PAL has worked better than hard and fast rules.”But at least one advocacy group was dubious. “The FTC’s report on marketing violent entertainment to kids illustrates that the industry has a long ways to go before it can legitimately claim that it’s effectively regulating itself,” said Jim Steyer, chief exec of the nonpartisan org Common Sense Media. “The data show that underage kids generally have little problem buying or renting violent media titles.”

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