On December 3, 2009, the FTC released a report to Congress that outlined various ways in which self-regulation has not done enough to limit advertising to children of music with explicit lyrics, and movies and games that depict violence.

The report spans various media platforms and contains specific recommendations to the entertainment industry.

  • The movie industry and the music industry should develop specific and objective criteria to restrict marketing of violent movies and music to children.
  • The FTC is looking for restrictions not only for advertising R-rated movies in venues reaching a substantial under-17 audience, but also for the advertising of PG-13 movies in venues reaching a substantial under-13 audience.
  • These criteria should apply both to direct advertising of the movie and to indirect promotion of the movie through tie-in advertising of foods, toys, and other licensed products appealing to children.
  • The FTC also recommends that the music industry should implement restrictions for all Parental Advisory Label (PAL)-stickered music in venues reaching a substantial under-17 audience.
  • The criteria implemented by the movie and music industries should include not only the percentage of the underage audience, but also other factors like the absolute number of children reached, whether the content is youth-oriented, and the youth popularity and apparent ages of the characters and performers.
  • The movie, music, and electronic game industries should evaluate their restrictions and tighten them as necessary, paying particular attention to online and viral marketing, to ensure that advertising is not placed in venues reaching large underage audiences.
  • The movie industry should increase enforcement efforts against online posting of “red tag” trailers without adequate age-based restrictions on access.
  • The movie industry should carefully examine the content of “appropriate audience” trailers for consistency with the feature films they will precede.
  • The movie industry should place all rating information prominently on the front of DVD cases and other packaging for home releases of movies and should make disclosure of both rating and rating reasons prominent in all advertising venues.
  • The music industry should display the PAL more prominently in advertising, particularly in television and online venues, and should provide information about the specific type of explicit content.
  • The electronic game industry should include content descriptors with the rating on the front panel of game packaging and should continue to provide more detailed rating summaries for parents online.
  • The movie industry should take steps to better inform parents about additional adult content in unrated DVDs and should give parents a way to assess the appropriateness of unrated versions for their child.
  • Specifically, the industry should either re-rate DVD releases that contain additional content or, at a minimum, extend the new disclosure rule regarding the content of unrated DVDs to all forms of advertising and improve the level of compliance with the rule.
  • Retailers and theater owners should continue to strengthen enforcement efforts restricting the sale of tickets to R-rated movies, R-rated and unrated movie DVDs, PAL-stickered music, and M-rated games to children, paying attention to possible enforcement gaps created by the use of gift cards for online purchase.

Since the FTC issued its first report on marketing violent entertainment to children in 2000, the agency has called on the entertainment industry to be more vigilant in three areas: restricting the marketing of mature-rated products to children; clearly and prominently disclosing rating information; and restricting children’s access to mature-rated products at retail.  This latest report found areas for improvement among music, movie, and video game marketers, but credited the game industry with outpacing the other two industries in all three areas.

The report, entitled “Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Sixth Follow-up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries” analyzed information from sources including marketing documents submitted by industry members, an undercover “mystery” shopper survey, consumer surveys conducted in shopping malls and by telephone, “surfs” of industry Web sites, and data acquired from proprietary ad-monitoring services.  Findings included:

  • Music: While the music industry’s Parental Advisory Label alerts parents to explicit lyrics in recordings, it does not provide information about the nature of that content.  The music industry has declined to implement rules restricting the marketing of explicit-content labeled music to children.  The report does not find any indication of specific targeting of children, but does show numerous examples of ads for explicit-content music on television programs popular with teens.  Disclosure of the label in advertising is still spotty, including on official artist and company Web sites, where the label usually is not readable.  Television ads display the explicit content label only half the time and even then usually not prominently.  Music CD retailers and online download sites, by contrast, do an excellent job of displaying the parental advisory label.  Finally, retailers do not effectively prevent children from buying explicit-content music, with seven in 10 underage shoppers able to buy CDs with a Parental Advisory Label.
  • Movies: Although the movie industry determines on a case-by-case basis whether a PG-13-rated film may be advertised to children under 13, there is no explicit policy restricting such marketing.  As detailed in the marketing plans reviewed by the Commission, movie studios targeted violent PG-13 films to children under 13 both through advertising and promotional tie-ins with foods, toys, and other licensed products.  Studios continued to place a significant number of ads for violent R-rated movies on television shows and Internet sites highly popular with children under 17.  Increasingly, industry members post “red tag” trailers for R-rated movies, intended for age-restricted audiences, on the Internet without age-based access restrictions.  Although the MPAA rating and rating reasons are not always prominent, the industry generally does display the MPAA rating in advertising. Rating information on DVDs is not prominently placed; moreover, more and more DVD versions of movies are not rated, and some studios hype the lack of a rating.  The Commission’s research shows that parents are not adequately informed that unrated DVDs may contain additional violent or adult content.  On the positive side, theaters denied 72 percent of underage shoppers admission to R-rated movies, a significant improvement from 2006 and even more so from 2000. Most retailers, however, continue their poor record of enforcement against underage purchase of R-rated and unrated DVDs.
  • Electronic Games: The FTC finds a high degree of compliance with the video game industry’s marketing and advertising rules, although these standards allow game marketers to advertise on many television shows and Web sites popular with children.  Further, retailers are enforcing age restrictions on the sale of M-rated games to children, with an average denial rate of 80 percent.  The report notes, however, that children may be able to obtain M-rated games by, for example, using retailer gift cards online.  Finally, the proliferation of game applications for mobile devices provides challenges – for example, some companies do not provide any rating system for games available on their networks, and there is no consistent system of age-based parental controls for these applications.