US FTC: Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children

Since 2000 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided reports to Congress on ‘Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children’. These report cover the Motion Picture, Music Recording and Electronic Game Industries.

The reports focus on the effectiveness of industry self regulation to restrict the sale of media products to those deemed (by self regulated standards) to be below the age suitable for the consumption of the product. As the reports title the focus of the FTC has been on ‘violent’ content rather than, say, sexual or racist content – though these other types of ‘mature’ content are covered by the self regulatory ratings systems.

The 2000 FTC report found that ‘violent entertainment products’ were routinely marketed to children under 17. Subsequent reports have examined the changes in this situation resulting from, among other things, dialog between the FTC and various industry bodies and members.

The three areas of positive action that the FTC have focused on are:
(1) prohibiting target marketing to children and imposing sanctions for violations
(2) improving self-regulatory programs at the retail level
(3) increasing parental awareness of the ratings and labels

The FTC has noted that there has been a an improvement over the period of the reports in all the areas that it has highlighted especially in labeling. However degree of advertising of ‘violent media’ to children especially in the media popular with teens and through online advertising continues to draw the Commissions disapproval.

In respect of the video game industry the Commission has recently (2007) found that the industry does not ‘specifically target advertising [of violent media]’ at children. Moreover advertising on TV programs popular with teens is diminishing. Video game retailers have also been found to have improved enforcement policies.

In the case of video games this regulation is carried out by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The Commission (2007) found that the ESRB lead the other industries covered by the reports in it’s ‘clear and prominent labeling’ of content, the ESRB was also found to sanction companies for infractions of the self-agreed standards. Though issues were raising about putting labels on the front of products, and the methodology of rating has been criticized for its potential to miss content of interest to parents.

The Commission (2007) raised concerns about mobile games as few of these have ESRB ratings though it notes that the Wireless telecommunications industry has ‘crafted’ content guidelines.

External Links

2007: Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Fifth Follow-Up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries: A Federal Trade Commission Report to Congress (April 2007).  Press Release: Text.

2004: Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Fourth Follow-Up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries (July 2004): A Report to Congress (July 2004)  Report [PDF 939K]

2002: Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: a twenty-one month follow-up review of industry practices in the motion picture, music recording & electronic game industries: a report to congress (june 2002)
Concurring Statement of Commissioner Swindle

2001: Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: a one-year follow-up review of industry practices in the motion picture, music recording & electronic game industries: a report to congress (december 2001) [pdf 5141kb]
Concurring Statement of Commissioner Swindle (December 2001) [PDF 6KB]

2001: Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Six-Month Follow-Up Review of Industry Practices In the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries: A Report to Congress (April 2001) [PDF 174KB]

2000: Marketing Violent Entertainment To Children: a review of self-regulation and industry practices in the motion picture, music recording & electronic game Industries: A Report of The Federal Trade Commission (September 2000) [PDF 434KB] Complete Set of Appendices A-K [PDF 689K].

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