The pressure's on the Federal Trade Commission to act in the wake of movie studios' refusal last week to set objective standards for ad placement.
Some senators criticized the Motion Picture Association of America's 12-point list of initiatives to curb marketing of violent R-rated movies to kids, saying the industry hadn't gone far enough.
FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky two weeks ago said his staff was researching the agency's authority to act under existing laws and would have an answer in a month or two. The FTC, which issued a report Sept. 11 on marketing of violent videogames, movies and music to kids, is trying to determine whether a marketer's rating a product for adults but marketing it to kids is legally "unfair."
WATCHING FOR REAL CHANGE
An FTC spokesman said last week the 12 initiatives indicate the industry "has heeded the report's finding and taken first steps," but that the FTC will be watching for actual changes. If the agency determines it can act, "we'd then take a look at whether there could be any cases we could bring," he said.
Eight top movie executives moved to answer some of the accusations in an appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee on Sept. 27. In the furthest step, Warner Bros. President Alan Horn said his company would cease running ads in any medium where 35% of the audience is under 17, a move that could make it difficult for the company to advertise R-rated films on MTV and could affect some print titles, including Vibe.
Jim Gianopulos, chairman of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., said his company will adopt the same 35% figure, but limited its effect to "broadcast network" programs and publications, and said the company is still reviewing whether to apply the number to cable.
Mel Harris, president-chief operating officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said the company would cease using teen Web sites to advertise R-rated movies.
The FTC report had urged entertainment companies to adopt the 35% figure for print and Internet ads, but had sought to get TV ads stopped in programs with "substantial" under-17 audiences, even when the percentage of teens watching was much smaller than 35%.
MCCAIN CONDEMNS STUDIOS
The dozen initiatives the film industry unveiled a day earlier included new curbs on where trailers for R-rated violent movies run; an agreement to appoint a senior executive or committee to review marketing at each studio; and more information in film ads on why films get R-ratings. But when it came to curbs on advertising placement, the industry plan was much less specific.
"Each company will review its marketing and advertising practices in order to further the goal of not inappropriately specifically targeting children in its advertising of films rated R for violence," that part of the initiative said.
The refusal of the six other studios to go farther drew the condemnation of the committee chairman, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), and some other senators. Sen. McCain called the language "not good enough." Other senators, including Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) and Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D., S.C.), were also critical. Congress "can't control advertising unless it's false and deceptive, but we can control the airwaves," said Sen. Hollings.
MOVIEMAKERS DEFEND PRACTICES
The motion picture industry as a whole showed no indication it was willing to revisit its initiatives. A spokesman for the film industry, replying to Sen. McCain's comments last week, said Washington should wait to see how Hollywood responds in marketing films before reacting.
Sen. McCain said the next step is with the FTC. An aide said the senator feels there is no need for legislation, but the FTC should take "an activist role" against studios, if it has legal authority and changes aren't forthcoming.
In their appearance before the committee, several of the film studio executives defended marketing certain R-rated films, such as "Schindler's List," to those under 17. And while one admitted being "appalled" by the FTC's report that research for R-rated films was done using kids under 17, they defended marketing to those under 17.
Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.