April 13th, 2007

FTC Scolds Marketers About Violent Content

By Wendy Melillo

A Federal Trade Commission report on media violence released today gives the entertainment industry mediocre marks for its efforts to police the marketing of violent content to children.

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

While the film industry does not specifically target R-rated films to kids under 17, it continues to advertise such movies on TV shows popular with that age group, according to the report. Some of these ads violated the standard adopted by some studios to prohibit R-rated movie ads in media where more than 35 percent of the audience is under 17.

The report also noted that 90 percent of R-rated movie ads were placed on Web sites where children under 17 made up at least one-third of the audience.

The commission suggested that the movie industry examine whether the dissemination of unrated or “director’s cut” versions of R-rated fare undermines the self-regulatory system.

This report, the sixth overall from the FTC, marks the first time the commission has studied viral marketing, which includes sites like MySpace and YouTube.

The FTC also criticized the music industry for advertising on cable shows and Web sites where teens make up a significant portion of the audience. The music industry also has ineffective policies when it comes to preventing kids from buying inappropriate CDs, and it should do a better job of displaying its parental advisory label in TV and online ads, the FTC said.

Meanwhile, videogame companies earned poor marks for placing ads on sites where teens represented 45 percent of the audience, a violation of the industry’s own standard. The FTC recommended that the videogame industry tighten its guidelines.

Some consumer groups said the report should serve as a wake-up call to the industry to tighten self-regulatory systems.

“The report confirms what we at Common Sense hear from parents all the time: even though most parents try to keep a close eye on what movies and videogames their kids are buying, they worry that their kids can still buy content that isn’t appropriate for them,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that works to improve the media landscape for kids and families. “In an era where kids are spending more and more time with the media, parents need the assurance that retailers won’t put ultraviolent media content in the hands of kids who aren’t ready to see it, and that the entertainment industry will be responsible in how it markets violent content.”

But Steyer also said the report did not address the issue of inappropriately placing ads for violent movies in the middle of family friendly shows or sporting events. “You’re watching American Idol with your 9-year-old and an ad for The Zodiac Killer or The Reaper comes on and you have to rush to grab the remote,” he said. “This was a pretty tame report and we have seen this movie before. A ton more needs to be done.”

Gayle Osterberg, vp, corporate communications at the Motion Picture Association of America, issued this statement in response to the FTC’s findings: “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. We welcome constructive review, as we are constantly working to maintain the system as the gold standard of parental information tools.”


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