Entertainment gets a pass

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The Federal Trade Commission's award of a "commendable progress" grade to the entertainment industry's marketing of violent products appears to have ended the immediate threat that Congress would take legislative action. But there were warnings last week that it could return as an issue.

Legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate last week suspended plans to give the FTC new authority to go after marketers advertising violent products for older audiences to younger audiences. However, they also said they would seek to keep pressure on the industry.

The "commendable" grade was not universal. In the House, U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton (R., Mich.), chairman of the committee's telecommunications panel, jointly gave the recording industry an "I" for "Irresponsible."

"The lack of any real progress by the industry is very troubling and leaves the committee with no choice but to review all its oversight options," said Mr. Tauzin.

In the Senate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) said that he would introduce legislation to require annual FTC reports on the industry, while Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) called the report "the good, the bad and the ugly." He said he would focus attention on the music industry, which he identified as the "bad" in the report. Sen. Lieberman had originally joined others to push legislation giving the FTC new authority.

The report is an update to last year's report on the marketing of violent movies, video games and music. It generally praised Hollywood and the video-game industry for curbing the marketing of violent films to youth, while chastising the music industry for not doing enough. No entertainment industry, however, got off totally unscathed.

Last year's report found that the movie industry had rated products for an older audience, then-according to marketing plans-targeted them at a younger audience. The report also suggested video-game makers were advertising violent products in inappropriate media.

The latest report found "no express targeting of either R-rated films to children under 17, or PG-13 rated films to children under 13." The report said no ads for R-rated movies appeared in teen magazines and that trailers for R-rated movies no longer seemed to run before G and PG-rated films. The report, however, said theater owners were doing little to check to see that kids under age 17 unaccompanied by an adult weren't getting into R-rated films.


The FTC also again took issue with where some TV ads ran, even though several of the studios said they had stopped running ads for R-rated films on Viacom's MTV. The FTC stance is that ads for R-rated films shouldn't be in programming unless at least 65% of the audience of the program is adult.

The video-game industry was praised for taking strong action to limit ad placements for violent games, but the FTC said two game makers it didn't identify expressly targeted an under-17 audience, and the commission found some ads for M-rated games running in youth-oriented magazines and Web sites.

The music industry took it on the chin for its continued unwillingness to provide age or content ratings. Music packaging contains only a parental advisory sticker.

"Marketing documents for 13 explicit-content labeled recordings included extensive advertising in the most popular teen venues," said the report, which said 90% of retailers aren't checking the age of people buying music with warning labels.

Several members of the industries responded to the report. "The FTC's report confirms that the film community has made good on the 12-point set of initiatives we presented to the Congress in September 2000," said Jack Valenti, president-CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry "has made tremendous progress in our campaign to inform parents about the parental advisory. ... We are heartened that the Federal Trade Commission's report did reflect the many steps we have taken and the progress we have made to strengthen our program."

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