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FTC Study: Teens Are Being Permitted to Buy ‘R'-rated DVDs

15 Oct, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

Eighty-one percent of teens who try to buy ‘R'-rated DVDs succeed, suggesting that ratings limitations don't necessarily trickle down to packaged media, according to a first-time survey by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The agency has studied theatrical admissions, video game and music sales in previous years, but this is the first time it has had mystery shops performed for DVD sales, a spokesperson said.

The 2003 survey found that teenage shoppers (ages 13 to 16) were able to buy ‘M'-rated games 69 percent of the time, down from 78 percent in 2001; gain admission to theaters showing ‘R'-rated movies 36 percent of the time, down from 48 percent in 2001; and buy music with labels warning of explicit lyrics 83 percent of the time, down from 90 percent in 2001.

The study also found that 26 percent of stores selling DVDs displayed rating information, compared with 62 percent of movie theaters and 27 percent of game vendors; and that the cashier asked the youngsters' ages 19 percent of the time for DVD purchases, 48 percent for theatrical admissions, 24 percent of the time for games and just 13 percent of the time for music purchases.

“We will be very interested to see the breakdown of data and if there is any difference in the success rate for rentailers vs. sellthrough and other subsegments of the industry,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association.

The FTC performed similar surveys in 2000 and 2001, but was unable to get funding to do the survey in 2002. The 2003 data released so far is a preview of a more extensive report that is due later in the year, said Mark Eichorn, an attorney at the FTC's division of advertising practices.

The survey sent teen shoppers into 899 stores and theaters in 39 states. It included rental and sellthrough environments, but looked only at sellthrough practices.

“Every year, we break it up into major chains and independents. When we look at the majors, those include the largest chains in an industry,” Eichorn said. The FTC could not immediately provide breakouts for enforcement percentages at independents vs. chains, he said.

The FTC will host a workshop on industry self-enforcement of violent content ratings Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. Bersell will be among the panelists presenting at that event.

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