Hollywood Will Help to Police PG-13 TV Ads

The Better Business Bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit is getting the Motion Picture Association of America involved in reviewing complaints it receives about ads for PG-13 movies that air during TV shows primarily targeted toward kids under 12.

According to CARU, the ad industry's self-regulatory arm for children's advertising, it reached an agreement with the MPAA in which it will refer advertisers that intentionally place PG-13 ads during kids’ shows to the MPAA to determine whether they have violated movie-industry guidelines for such advertising. Previously, CARU was making that determination.

The MPAA has its own ad-screening arm. Studios that submit their movies for ratings to the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA, not to be confused with CARU) must also submit their ads to the Motion Picture Advertising Administration to make sure they are suitable for the target audiences, particularly kids.

So is this a case of the Fox being asked to regulate the chicken house? "The MPAA’s film Classifications and Ratings Administration's (CARA) process and CARA's advertising review process are both independent of the studios," said Lee Peeler, President and CEO of  the National Advertising Review Council, which sets CARU policies. "We see this as good self-regulation that will combine CARU’s independent ad monitoring with MPAA’s rating expertise. "

"Although there is no question that an “R” rated film may not be advertised on media primarily directed to kids under 12, " says Peeler, "the PG-13 category contains a wide range of films,  from those clearly inappropriate for children under 12,  to films like Harry Potter.

 "Most importantly the new approach adds an important level of enforceability which was missing from our prior approach. Normally CARU refers cases of non-compliance to the government. With respect to film ratings however, the courts have repeatedly dismissed effort by the government to enforce film ratings. MPAA, by contrast, has significant sanctions with which to enforce its decisions. "

CARU has been pushing the movie industry not to advertise PG-13 films during children's shows, but it got pushback from some studios. CARU generally frowns on advertising PG-13 movies during kids’ shows since that designation defines the movie as containing scenes that may not be appropriate for children.

Studios have argued that the movies aren't de facto unsuitable for kids, and that kids can watch them with parental guidance.

CARU picked the same bone with Disney last year over its advertising of Pirates of the Caribbean on Nickelodeon, with 20th Century Fox over X-Men: The Last Stand and with Lionsgate over Employee of the Month, in the last instance referring Lionsgate to the Federal Trade Commission, which is essentially as much enforcement power as CARU has.

Peeler said CARU approached MPAA about stepping in, and that it will rely on MPAA's "significant sanctions" for those who do not comply with MPAA's decisions.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a coalition of children's-advocacy groups, called on the FTC last summer to investigate PG-13 movies advertised during children's TV shows.

The group was prompted to write by the marketing of the Transformers movie, which contained "intense sequences of sci-fi action violence." Despite that content, the movie was being advertised during children's TV programming with a TV-Y rating -- a rating that signals a show appropriate for kids as young as two -- they said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.