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FTC says movie ad standard lax

Dec 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Trade Commission criticized Hollywood studios last week for using too relaxed a standard to decide which television shows are appropriate for R-rated film advertisements.
In a widely anticipated report to Congress on the entertainment industry’s marketing practices, the agency said the movie and video game industries overall have made “commendable progress” in limiting the advertising of adult-rated films and games to kids.
But the FTC complained that, “The one popular teen venue where studios continued to advertise R-rated films was television.”
And it criticized as insufficient a pledge adopted by Warner Bros., Miramax, Paramount and a few other studios earlier this year to avoid advertising R-rated movies during shows with a share of the youth audience that is 35 percent or higher.
“This threshold permits continued advertising on the programs with the largest number of teen viewers,” the agency said.
For example, many of the TV programs popular with teens, such as “The Simpsons” on Fox, “WWF Smackdown” on UPN or “Jackass” on MTV, have youth-audience levels under 35 percent.
And even fare geared to the very young doesn’t always meet the 35 percent threshold, such as “Power Rangers” (23 percent) and “Frosty the Snowman” (33 percent).
The studios said they derived the 35 percent benchmark from the FTC, which used it in an earlier review. But an FTC spokeswoman said the agency never recommended that standard.
“We clearly were not using a 35 percent cutoff for television shows,” FTC spokeswoman Mary Engle said.
The report is a follow-up to a larger, more comprehensive one issued in September 2000 by the FTC that accused the entertainment industry of peddling violent and vulgar content to kids, triggering a nationwide debate about content.
The latest report also praised the movie and video game businesses for including ratings and related advisories in TV spots and other ads.
But it noted that while some studios have made these warnings very readable, others have not.
The music industry took the brunt of the report’s criticism, coming under fire for continuing to advertise explicit recordings in popular teen media, including TV shows.
Reacting to the findings, Sen. Lieberman and three other Democratic senators-Robert Byrd (W.Va.); Hillary Clinton, (N.Y.) and Herb Kohl (Wis.)-put on hold legislation that lets the FTC penalize companies for marketing violent, sexual or profane content to children.
“Except for the music industry, marketing self-regulation is working, which was my hope all along, and there is no pressing need for government standard-setting,” Sen. Lieberman said.