The video game industry is doing a better job at keeping young kids away from violent and other inappropriate content than the music and movie businesses, according to a new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But all three industries could improve their self-regulation, the report said, especially when it comes to new technologies such as mobile games and viral online marketing.
The report, which reviews the marketing of violent entertainment to children, also found that movie studios intentionally market PG-13 movies to kids under 13.
Unrated DVDs pose another challenge, because stores often sell such versions of films that were rated R or PG-13 in theaters. Nearly six out of 10 parents surveyed didn’t know that unrated DVDs can contain additional adult or explicit content that wasn’t in the film’s original cut.
This was the FTC’s seventh such report to Congress since 2000, and each found that the movie and game industries made progress in restricting the marketing of products intended for grown-ups to children. The music industry, however, "had not significantly changed its marketing practices since the Commission’s initial report," the FTC said.
The report did find that fewer kids are able to skirt age restrictions than just a few years ago. To see if retailers and movie theaters are enforcing age limits, the commission sent 13- to 16-year-old "mystery shoppers" to see movies and buy DVDs, video games, or music not intended for their age group.
On average, 20 percent of them were able to buy video games rated M (for Mature) when unaccompanied by a parent. This is down from 42 percent in 2006, the latest available figure.
In contrast, 72 percent of the kids were able to buy music CDs with explicit content warnings, compared with 76 percent in 2006. More than half of them were sold R-rated movie DVDs, down from 71 percent three years ago.
Movie theaters are also checking IDs more: Only 28 percent of the teens could buy tickets for R-rated movies, down from 39 percent in 2006.
While the average denial rate for M-rated video games was 80 percent overall, the report found that retailer Toys ‘R’ Us lags in enforcement, with only a 56-percent denial rate to the underage mystery shoppers. The report also noted that "use of gift cards to buy games online … represents one potential gap in enforcement against underage purchase."
The proliferation of gaming applications available for mobile devices, coupled with the fact that most wireless carriers and content providers do not rate these applications with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system, is also cause for concern, the report said.
"Age-based parental controls on what games can be downloaded to mobile devices [could] offer another tool for restricting children’s access to mature content," it recommended.
"Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children" (PDF)