Violence revisited

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The Federal Trade Commission this week will issue a report on violent movies, video games and music that will document the steps taken by marketers to avoid targeting such fare to kids.

The update comes 15 months after a damning FTC report that showed such products routinely were marketed to minors even though they were ostensibly aimed at older audiences.

Congressional aides warned that unless the report shows progress by marketers, the demand for legislative action could grow intense.

"Ideally we would like to see substantial improvement in the three industries," said Dan Gerstein, an aide to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D., Conn). Sen. Lieberman earlier this year introduced legislation that would let the FTC take action against companies that rate their products one way but market them another.

"Sen. Lieberman was concerned about the lack of progress, but he didn't push the bill because he wanted to see how things have changed. The best possible outcome is there has been progress and there is no need for the legislation," Mr. Gerstein said.

The first report was issued in September 2000 and was based on the FTC's examination of ads, marketing plans and ad buys in the entertainment industries. It accused marketers of "aggressive" and "pervasive" marketing of violent movies, games and music to kids.

The details were not pretty. One R-rated movie, for example, was promoted via fliers distributed to youth organizations such as the Camp Fire Boys & Girls. A marketing plan for a video game rated M for "mature" listed "males 17 to 34" as its target but added, "The true target is males 12 to 34." The report also said younger teens were included in a panel that tested ads for a movie rated for older teens.

There were also complaints that some marketers weren't making ratings clear in ads or were allowing retailers to cover up ratings information with price tags or security packaging.

In perhaps the most controversial finding, the FTC also took advertisers to task for advertising violent movies and video games on TV programs where the majority of the audience was adult, but the underage audience substantial. The agency suggested that even programs that had an audience with more than 65% adult viewers-such as UPN's "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"-could be inappropriate for violent entertainment ads.

Legislators expressed surprise and anger at several hearings of the Senate Commerce Committee that included leading executives from the entertainment industry. Those marketers defended their practices but also promised change.

Earlier this year, the FTC said it had seen some improvement based on monitoring where ads were running. But that update did not include a detailed look at marketing documents, which will be part of the new report.

"We hope there will be some recognition that when the FTC pointed out to us that we weren't doing enough as an industry to follow our own guidelines [marketers responded]," said Jano Cabrera, communications director for the Recording Industry Association of America. The recording industry pushed marketers to include information on parental warnings in ads and at retail. "We think the report will show a marked improvement."

Carolyn Rauch, senior VP of the Interactive Digital Software Association, which implemented restrictions on advertising and a ratings board, also said she was "hopeful the report will reflect our positive movement." A spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America said that group will reserve comment until after the report is issued.

While all three industries have made some changes since the first FTC report, they have declined to make others. The recording industry, criticized for having a warning on content but no age-based rating system, still has only the content warning label. And some violent movies and video games are still advertised on TV programs with large youth audiences.

In the House of Representatives, where U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.) held his own hearings last year, an aide warned that progress is mandatory. "The bottom line is the entertainment industry better be abiding by the commitment they made to us that they wouldn't be targeting children," said Ken Johnson, an aide to Rep. Tauzin. "If they are still doing it, there will be hell to pay."

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