Saturday, April 21, 2007

Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children Persists, FTC Study Finds

This posting was written by Cheryl Montan, CCH Writer/Analyst.

The Federal Trade Commission gave a mixed review of the entertainment industry’s self-regulatory programs and its marketing of violent entertainment products to children in a 138-page report to Congress submitted on April 12.

In “Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Fifth Follow-up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries,” the Commission found that—although the movie, music, and video-game industries generally comply with their own voluntary ratings and label display standards—companies continue to market some R-rated movies, M-rated video games, and explicit-content recordings on television shows and
websites with substantial teen audiences.

In addition, the FTC determined that while video game retailers have made significant progress in limiting sales of M-rated games to children, movie and music retailers have made only modest progress limiting sales. As a result, the Commission recommended that all three industries consider adopting new, or tightening existing, target marketing standards.

“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 FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “This latest FTC report shows improvement, but also indicates that the entertainment industry has more work to do.”

Virtual Marketing Trends

The FTC tracked trends in virtual marketing, including social networking sites like MySpace and virtual video sites like YouTube. Advertisers often set up profile pages with industry-generated content or uploaded videos for users to then share on their own, such as posting music to their own profile page or emailing videos to friends.

The report noted that few profile pages contain prominent rating information. Although considered general audience sites, these websites reach a large number of children under 17.

The report also flagged a new trend in gaming, mobile phone games, and noted several challenges they pose. For example, mobile phone game developers often do not seek ESRB ratings and they do not sell their products through traditional retail channels, instead licensing their products directly to wireless carriers. The report addressed industry efforts to provide some form of parental oversight in this area.


In addition to tighter marketing standards, the Commission also recommended that retailers implement and enforce point-of-sale policies restricting sales of rated or labeled material to children under 17. In particular, the report suggested that the movie industry examine whether marketing and selling of unrated or “Director’s Cut” DVD versions of R-rated movies—which may contain content that could warrant an even more restrictive rating—undermines the current self-regulatory system.

The report also suggested that the music industry provide more information on packaging and in advertising about why certain recordings receive a Parental Advisory. Finally, the report recommended that the video game industry place content descriptors on the front of product packaging and research why many parents believe that the system could do a better job of informing them about the level of violence in some games.

The report reemphasized the Commission's support of industry self-regulation in this area, especially in light of important First Amendment considerations. The Commission will continue to work with industry and others to inform and assist parents in making appropriate choices. The Commission said that it will continue to monitor this area, particularly as emerging technologies change the way entertainment products are marketed and sold. .

A copy of the report is available here on the FTC's website.

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