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UPDATE: Big Blue Tags Terror Themes

28 Sep, 2001 By: Joan Villa

Blockbuster Video plans to label new releases containing terrorist themes in response to consumers’ heightened sensitivity to violenceafter the Sept. 11 attacks.

So far, however, the nation’s top rental chain has identified just one film, Warner Home Video’s Swordfish, due Oct. 30, for signage plannedfor all stores until the end of the year. The company is also reviewing two others — a small independent movie and a direct-to-video title — for the warning, says senior v.p. Karen Raskopf.

The number of game titles affected is unclear, she adds. Raskopf says Blockbuster will contact game suppliers to identify appropriate titles.

“We don’t want to pull product from our stores, but our goal is to help the consumer make informed decisions,” she says.

The Swordfish box art doesn’t clearly depict “it has a terrorist theme,” she says. To help consumers, the video will carry either an on-box sticker or a shelf talker with the message, “In light of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, please know that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers.”

Warner defends Swordfish’s content as related to “cyber-hacking” and“anti-terrorism,” noting that consumers who’ve seen the theatrical ad would know “it’s an action picture, not a romantic comedy, but it’s not a terrorist film.” Plus, “they’re waiting five weeks” until Swordfish’s Oct. 30 street date, notes the executive who asked not to be named. “If they’re doing this as a public service to people, they should be doingit on movies that are in there now.”

Blockbuster has targeted only new releases because they account for 80% of rentals and renters likely would already be familiar with thecontent of older titles, Raskopf notes. “There are two criteria,” she says. “Do they have a terrorist theme and how clearly is it indicated[and] could the consumer make their own decision based on the jacket cover and information available?”

Game companies and analysts reacted to Blockbuster's announcement.

Sony Computer Entertainment America said, "Decisions made by individual retailers around movie and game properties are their individual decision. We are working very closely with our retailers to make sure they are aware of the nature of content in games, but BlockBuster and/or other retailers ultimately determine how to highlight products within their individual stores."

James Lin, senior analyst, Jefferies and Co., said, "I see no effect on video games from Blockbuster's decision to tag certain violent games. In fact, being able to more easily identify these type of games may actually result inincreasing demand for these games among teens, similar to how 'R' rated movies always seem to attract the underaged teens."

John Taylor, analyst, Arcadia Investments, said, "I think most retailers will make an extra effort to let consumers know what they are getting. The good news is that consumers will still be able to get what they want -- retailers aren't likely to censor content. I think most video game publishers are likely to hit the pause button to see whether the concern lasts about violence. As always, the question concerns where you draw the line, and what is age appropriate."

Additional reporting by John Gaudiosi

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