FTC Issues Report on Marketing of "Violent Entertainment" to Children
On Dec. 3, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its seventh report on the marketing of “violent entertainment products” to children by the motion picture, music recording and electronic game industries (the “Report”). Titled "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Sixth Follow-up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries," the Report concluded that “[a]ll three industries generally comply with their own voluntary standards regarding the display of ratings in advertising and labeling, although these standards should be strengthened to increase prominence of the rating and to display more information about the reasons behind the rating.”
In September 2000, the FTC issued its initial report on the marketing of violent entertainment to children, concluding that the entertainment industry routinely targeted children in its advertising and marketing of violent entertainment products and calling upon the entertainment industry to self-regulate. The FTC called on the entertainment industry to be more vigilant in three areas: (1) restricting the marketing of mature-rated products to children; (2) clearly and prominently disclosing rating information; and (3) restricting children’s access to mature-rated products at retail.
The FTC continued to monitor the entertainment industry’s self-regulatory policies after its initial report, while still mindful of the “important First Amendment considerations” involved in regulation of content, and documented the progress in a series of reports from April 2001 through April 2007.
The FTC’s 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 also singled out viral marketing and new media, finding that “[i]ndustry products have not sufficiently curbed marketing that reaches a large youth audience, particularly in online media. These standards need to be tightened and more strictly enforced.”
Specifically, the Report found that while the movie industry did not expressly market R-rated movies to children under 17 years old, there was evidence of “significant television and Internet advertising likely to appeal to and reach a substantial teen audience.” Further, the FTC found that the film industry marketed PG-13-rated films to children under 13 years old. The Report singled out trailers and unrated DVD versions of films as an area of concern.
With regard to the music industry, the Report noted that while the Parental Advisory Label (PAL) alerts parents to explicit recordings, it does not provide information about the specific type of explicit content and is not adequately disclosed in advertising. Further, while the FTC did not find any instance of specific marketing of explicit content to children, the Report cited examples of advertisements for explicit-content music on television shows popular with teens as well as in viral marketing that reaches teen audiences.
Finally, while the FTC found that the electronic game industry continued to have the strongest self-regulatory code, and performed well with respect to prominent disclosure of ratings information in advertisements and retailer Web sites, the proliferation of game applications for mobile devices provides a future challenge for the industry.
New FTC recommendations
The FTC recommended a number of steps to further strengthen self-regulation by the entertainment industry in the Report, including:
- The movie and music industries “should develop specific and objective criteria to restrict marketing of violent movies and music to children,” including “not only the percentage of the underage audience, but 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.”
- All three industries should tighten their restrictions as necessary, “paying particular attention to online and viral marketing.”
- The movie industry should increase enforcement efforts against “red-tag” trailers on the Internet; examine the content of trailers shown in theatres to ensure they are appropriate for the audience; disclose ratings information more prominently on DVD packaging and advertising; and should take steps to better inform parents about adult content in unrated DVDs.
- The music industry should display the PAL more prominently in advertising.
- The electronic game industry should include content descriptors along with the rating on the packaging of video games.
The FTC “will continue to monitor the marketing of violent entertainment products, with particular attention to emerging technologies and new marketing techniques,” and will issue a further report following another period of monitoring industry practices.