The Federal Trade Commission gave entertainment companies a mixed report card Thursday in their efforts to shield children from violent movies, music and games.
In an update to Congress, the commission credited studios, music labels and video game makers for better following self-imposed guidelines, including clamping down on the sale of R-rated movie tickets to underage teens and providing better rating information to parents.
But the agency also faulted them for continuing to “advertise violent and explicit movies, games and music in media widely watched by teens.”
It also chided the online music business for being lax in keeping children from downloading songs with explicit lyrics.
Despite the criticisms, the tenor of the commission’s fourth report since 2000 on entertainment violence was far more muted compared with its original report, which attacked Hollywood marketing practices.
That report, requested by then-President Clinton, roiled Hollywood and Washington by revealing that movie studios had tested R-rated movies on 10-year-olds and advertised during Saturday morning cartoons.
In its latest report, the commission acknowledged strides entertainment companies have made over the last three years to adopt tougher marketing restrictions, but raised ongoing concerns.
Although studios aren’t targeting children under 17 in their marketing plans, they continue to advertise R-rated movies on TV shows that are popular with teens, the report said.
Examples include ads for Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Reloaded” on “WWE Smackdown!,” Columbia Pictures’ “Identity” on MTV’s “Direct Effect” and Universal Studios’ “8 Mile” on “The Bernie Mac Show.”
In all, the commission found 59 ads for seven R-rated films on programs that are popular with teens, although the programs attract a significant adult audience as well.
Critics echoed the commission’s findings.
“The problem still exists that millions of kids are watching mass-audience TV programs in which R-rated movies and M-rated video games are advertised,” said David Walsh, president of the nonprofit National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis.
Industry officials said they welcomed the report’s findings.
“We’re pleased that there is recognition of the efforts that have been made in our industry in response to that initial report,” said Rich Taylor, spokesman for the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
The music industry, which had been taken to task in a previous update for showing “virtually no change” in its advertising practices, fared better in the latest study.
The commission said the music industry “substantially curtailed advertising parental-advisory labeled music in magazines popular with teens.”
However, the report said that the industry’s compliance with labeling requirements improved only slightly and that only one-third of the online music services offered parental controls.
The Recording Industry Assn. of America said it welcomed “the review of legitimate online music services and the positive steps those businesses have taken to advise consumers about explicit content.”
The FTC report also criticized video game companies for advertising mature and teen-rated games in magazines that are popular with teens and preteens. Such magazines, however, are critical advertising outlets, said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Assn.
“If you take the FTC’s position to its logical conclusion ... we’d literally have no place to advertise the games.”