Hollywood in the hot seat

FTC report blasts the film industry for targeting kids with ads for R-rated movies

Movie studios routinely advertise R-rated movies in TV programs and on cable channels that kids are most likely to watch, the Federal Trade Commission said last week, releasing a study on media marketing prompted by last year's Columbine shootings.

"A central question the Commission was asked to address in this study is whether violent entertainment products are being marketed to children," the report said. "With respect to the film industry, the answer is plainly 'yes.'"

It's a practice some lawmakers have tried to compare to the marketing of tobacco products, but the movie industry has responded that the law does not forbid kids from seeing R-rated movies. As long as kids are accompanied by an adult, they can go see any movie except those rated NC-17. No movies rated higher than R have been released in the past year, the FTC said last week.

That means it's not illegal to include ads for R-rated motion pictures in TV shows that target a teen demographic, said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association, responding to the study. The FTC report found that ads for such movies are routinely found during such shows as Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, WWF Wrestling and South Park.

"This plan showed that Xena: Warrior Princess-used in advertising for virtually every R-rated movie the Commission examined-was as popular with children ages 6 to 11 as it was with males 12 to 17."

And as for channels, MTV was by far the most popular, in some cases receiving 50% of a movie studio's TV ad budget, the report found.

But Valenti pointed out last week that nearly 80% of the audiences that watch Xena and South Park are 18 and over.

"The reality is that, in a TV/cable/satellite landscape avalanched with available programming," he said, "it is well nigh impossible to exile young viewers from any of it."

Record companies and videogame makers also were accused of inappropriately marketing to kids, but those industries use very little TV advertising to do so. Record companies do, however, expose kids to the music they are promoting, mainly through three CABLE-TV music channels-MTV, BET and The Box-and often artists who have released mature-rated recordings appear on programs that air after school and in early prime time.

Still, the FTC acknowledged that exposure to violence does not guarantee a kid will be more violent, but pointed to studies suggesting that it increases the chances.

The Commission said it has no interest in being a censor. "Self-regulation by these industries is especially important, considering the First Amendment protections that prohibit government regulation of content in most instances."