FTC Wants More Restrictions On Advertising Violent Content On TV

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The Federal Trade Commission wants advertisers of violent movies, music and video games to do more to restrict advertising and promotion of that content, including on broadcast and cable TV.

That was the conclusion of a new FTC report issued Thursday. "Despite considerable improvements, the self-regulatory systems are far from perfect," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The report concluded that the music industry still advertises music with explicit content on TV shows with a "substantial number" of kids, and that movie studios "intentionally market" PG-13 movies to kids under 13.

The FTC recommended, among other things, that the movie and music industries develop specific criteria for restricting marketing of violent content to kids, and specifically on marketing of PG-13 movies to kids.

It also suggested that the movie, music and video game industries boost enforcement of online trailers without sufficient access restrictions, and that all improve the display or rating information in ads and packaging.

"As our societal standards have shifted, violence in the media has become something of a moving target," said Adonis Hoffman, senior vice president and counsel for the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "Because of the rapid pace of technology and changing consumer tastes, content creators have to work doubly hard to live up to expectations. It is notable that the entertainment and video industries continue to seek ways to improve their efforts to market responsibly especially to kids," he said. "While there is always room for improvement, we should not underestimate the power of pressure on these companies to conform to industry-developed and industry-enforced guidelines and standards, especially when combined with pressure from parents' groups and the power of competition in the market."

The Motion Picture Association of America and the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Advertising Review Unit have a deal under which CARU refers complaints about ads for PG-13 movies to MPAA for a decision on their appropriateness.

CARU has referred numerous films to MPAA over the past year and a half, including Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, Iron Man, Spiderman, Hulk, The Mummy and Star Trek. CARU began referring the ads to MPAA per the agreement, struck in March 2008 after the two parties could not agree on whether PG-13 ads should air in kids' shows.

CARU's stand has been that PG-13 films should not be advertising in shows targeted to young kids because the rating means that some of the content may not be appropriate for them. MPAA has countered that there should be no line drawn in the sand because "PG-13 does not necessarily mean you can't take a younger child to it."

"For more than four decades the motion picture industry has voluntarily adhered to the movie ratings system and the accompanying advertising approval process to help ensure that movies and advertising are viewed by, and marketed to, appropriate audiences," said MPAA spokesman Howard Gantman. "The MPAA is committed to providing parents with clear, concise information about the content of movies so they can make informed decisions about their children's movie-going experience. We take seriously our responsibility to parents and to that end, employ rigorous standards in reviewing content so that all advertising is suitable for the audience it is intended for - whether in the movie theater, on television, or on the Internet."

The MPAA has its own ad-screening arm. Studios that submit their movies for ratings to the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration must also submit their ads to the Motion Picture Advertising Administration to make sure they are suitable for the target audiences, particularly kids, and adhere to a set of guidelines, according to MPAA.