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Report Finds Underage Teens Still Able to Purchase R-Rated DVDs

14 Jul, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Report Finds Underage Teens Still Able to Purchase ‘R'-Rated DVDsBy HOLLY J. WAGNERMovie companies are doing a better job of making ratings visible on video products, but youngsters under 17 are still able to buy ‘R'-rated DVDs at major retailers 81 percent of the time, according to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on marketing violent entertainment to children.

The report, the fifth update in a series begun in 2000, surveyed DVD sellthrough and online rental site practices for the first time and found that even at retailers that have corporate policies restricting sales of violent content to minors, enforcement at the cash register is lax.

“Major” DVD retailers included in the survey were Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Kmart, Tower, Musicland and Target stores. At those stores, 74 percent of under-17 shoppers were able to buy ‘R'-rated DVDs.

Because the study focused on sellthrough and did not mystery shop for rentals, two of the top three rental chains are among those classified as “non-major,” an FTC spokeswoman said. “Non-major” retailers that were shopped included Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery, along with ShopKo, Meijer, Family Video, FuncoLand, Media Play, Sam Goody, Saturday Matinee, CompUSA, Digital Planet and others. The report states underage youngsters were able to buy ‘R'-rated films at those stores 88 percent of the time.

Most mass merchants and specialty chains had policies requiring clerks to check IDs before selling ‘R'-rated video and game products, but the report found they were seldom followed.

In only 19 percent of mystery-shopping youngsters' attempts to buy ‘R'-rated DVDs did cashiers ask the child's age, the study found, and cashiers asked only 15 percent of girls compared to 23 percent of boys. The shoppers ranged in age from 13 to 16 years.

The study also included a review of marketing and advertising practices. It found that studios include rating labels and details on most DVD packages and include the information in most advertising for the films in theatrical and on video. Notably, the survey of television advertising found no ads for ‘R'-rated DVDs on the programs surveyed because of their draw for teens. Studios voluntarily refrained from trailering ‘R'-rated movies on ‘G'-rated videos.

Retailer ads were inconsistent, but the commission found that “retailers commonly are not providing ratings and rating reasons in advertisements for DVDs.”

Another first for the report was a check of rentailer Web sites for Netflix and Blockbuster's Filmcaddy.com as well as Movielink.com and found that all displayed ratings, although one did not give the rating reasons.

Game retailers let youngsters under the ratings age buy ‘M'-rated games 69 percent of the time, and those that had restrictive sales policies (Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City, Staples, Toys “R” Us and CompUSA) let youngsters buy the games 55 percent of the time, the study found. More than 56 percent of the youngest shoppers, age 13, were able to buy ‘M'-rated games.

The commission noted “continued, modest improvement” since 2000, when 85 percent of shoppers below the ratings age succeeded in buying the games.

Marketing across industries is an increasing concern. The commission's example was inclusion of a trailer for the R-rated The Matrix Revolutions on the ‘T'-rated game Enter the Matrix.

“With the increasing cross-promotions across entertainment media, questions can be raised about whether members in one industry could use promotions of another industry's products to market to an audience that it could not directly reach in its own promotions” without violating voluntary guidelines, the report states.

The report suggests that movie and game studios put the ratings information on the front of box art, where it is more visible to parents and sales clerks.

Another suggestion noted in the report is to standardize ratings across the movie, music and game industries.

“The level of voluntary ratings enforcement found by the FTC in the sellthrough market is disappointing,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA). “We think that all video retailers should want to see a high level of ratings enforcement in their stores. It's simply good business.”

The VSDA has a Pledge to Parents program that offers guidelines for retailers to avoid selling or renting to youths product that may be inappropriate for their age group.

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