Inside Move: Dollars & Sense for new film ratings

Org banks coin, high-profile help

As “The Matrix Reloaded” kicks off a summer full of R-rated films, a well-funded non-profit org is aiming to establish a new rating system for Hollywood content.

Common Sense Media is tapping into what it says is growing dissatisfaction with the ratings currently used in all areas of entertainment.

Funded initially to the tune of $500,000, its deep-pocketed backers include Philip Anschutz and Charles Schwab. Former FCC chairmen William Kennard and Newton Minow sit on the board.

A telephone poll of 1,000 parents commissioned by the group found that only 1 in 5 completely trust current rating systems.

“It was time to put together a broad-based, non-partisan organization for parents and anyone else who cares about the influence of media on society,” says James Steyer, a Stanford professor who founded the org after writing the 2002 book “The Other Parent,” which examined content’s effects on kids.

With help from the publishers of the Zagat Guide, the group’s eponymous Web site rates everything from books to vidgames on language, sex, violence and other criteria using a “Lifesaver”-shaped disc.

The notion of applying the same rating system to all platforms is a provocative one. But Steyer says the need arises from a marketplace in which “Reloaded” is rated R but the “Matrix” vidgame is rated T for teen.

“Some people in the industry may be defensive at first, but I think it’ll be good for the industry,” Steyer says. The Motion Picture Assn.’s 35-year-old ratings system has come under attack before. But MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor points to a poll last June of 2,300 parents that found 74% view pic ratings as “fairly useful” to “very useful.”

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