Hollywood delivers reel proposals to D.C.

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Hollywood is coming to Washington this week to issue at least a partial "mea culpa" and to unveil some changes in the marketing of violent films to kids.

How dramatic those changes will be remained under discussion last week, as studio executives huddled over a list of 10 items. There were indications the changes might not go far enough to satisfy Congress.

David Crane, an aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.), said nothing short of a decision to stop targeting anyone under 17 for R-rated films is acceptable.

`UNACCEPTABLE'

"The general public's understanding of the movie rating system is that adult movies will be targeted to adults. That doesn't mean spending hundreds of millions advertising the movies to kids," said Mr. Crane. "Moviemakers look at this as if it's all right if they can convince kids to ask their parents to let them attend . . . That is unacceptable. . . . The whole process should be channeled through adults."

Moviemakers aren't likely to go that far. In fact, the eight top studio executives expected in Washington will defend marketing efforts aimed at 15- and 16-year-olds, who can see R-rated films when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

But, under pressure from a Federal Trade Commission study about the marketing of violent entertainment products to children, the executives are expected to unveil steps to limit marketing to younger kids, provide more information to parents, and do a better job of enforcement at theaters.

Among the steps: a commitment to provide more information on why films get R ratings, more prominent parental cautions and some new limits on ad placement.

UNCLEAR EFFECT

It's not clear how the changes, to be detailed Sept. 27 at a meeting of Sen. McCain's committee, will affect the more than $2 billion the film industry spends annually on media advertising.

"There are a lot of segments in the 12-to-24 group and there are big differences executionally in how a media plan can be carried out," said Bob Igiel, president of broadcast division at the Media Edge, New York.

Allen Banks, executive media director-North America for Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, said he didn't think much change would be needed. "My instinct tells me you would still buy the same types of programs," he said. "The issue is cable networks like MTV and it might be a question of what time of day commercials might air."

There has been no indication that any of the entertainment industries are willing to accept the FTC's suggestion that they forgo advertising in media with large teen audiences. The FTC suggested ads for violent movies, videogames and music be limited to media in which 65% of the audience is over 17.

DEBATE GROWS

The Hollywood executives will appear in Washington as the debate over the FTC findings intensifies. In the biggest new challenge, legislation that could ban "violent video programming" for much of the TV day or require TV networks to use content-based V-chip ratings was sent to the Senate floor by the Senate Commerce Committee. Several committee members, including Sen. McCain, questioned sponsor Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D., S.C.) about the measure's constitutionality.

Separately, Sens. Mike Dewine (R., Ohio) and Herb Kohl (D., Wis.) wrote FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky asking "whether an entertainment company that violates its pledge to avoid marketing violent entertainment to children may be sanctioned" by the FTC. Mr. Pitofsky, appearing at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said he is researching the question.

The film executives were supposed to testify Sept. 13 before the committee, just two days after the release of the FTC report. But they declined, citing scheduling conflicts.

Last week, Sen. McCain was still seething over their failure to attend. "I am outraged by FTC's discovery of systematic efforts to market violent content to children that the entertainment industries themselves consider underage," Sen. McCain said in prepared comments at a committee meeting. "I feel that these discoveries confront our entertainment industries with a simple, but painful, choice. Either admit that the marketing of rated materials to underage children grossly violates the principles underlying their rating systems and pledge to stop. Or admit, expressly or implicitly, that voluntary ratings will fail to control the marketing of violent material to children."

CAUTION URGED

Mr. Pitofsky cautioned the Senate Judiciary Committee not to proceed too quickly to grant the entertainment industry an anti-trust exemption that would let it establish an enforceable industry code against violent marketing.

"My sense is the industry is willing to move," he said. "I hope the antitrust issue doesn't lead to delay."

Walt Disney Co. has already announced several moves, including adding better descriptions of the reasons for R ratings in ads.

Sen. Hollings' move to leverage the debate on marketing of films into passage of legislation that would limit violent programming on TV drew condemnation last week from ad groups.

The Freedom to Advertise Coalition, which includes major ad and media groups, wrote the committee suggesting the legislation was "an overly broad and unconstitutional remedy to the problem of youth violence."

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