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PTC: Streaming Services Lack Robust Parental Controls

The Parents Television Council says that streaming service parental controls are lax, if they exist at all, concluding that makes them problematic for children.

That is according to a PTC analysis of original content on streaming sites that found that kids have "easy access" to adult content.

PTC also found that the majority of original streamed content was rated for mature audiences (TV-MA). For example, 65% of Netflix originals, while only 1% on that site was rated G and only 8% PG.

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The report, “Over-the-Top or a Race to the Bottom: A Parent’s Guide to Streaming Video,” grades parental controls and the availability of child- or family-friendly programming on streaming sites/devices including Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Google Chromecast, and Roku, and SVOD services Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix.

PTC had four takeaway recommendations: 1) implement a consistent rating system across all platforms, 2) provide a family plan option, 3) block titles when parental controls are turned on, and 4) produce more family-friendly original programming.

PTC also wants to get together with the services to talk about ways to improve. "As technologies continue to evolve, it is incumbent on companies leading the charge to also consider how children and families will be impacted,"said PTC President Tim Winter. "It is our hope this report will help move that dialog forward."

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Among the report's key conclusions:

1) "Among top SVOD providers, there is no consistency in the application or visibility of aged-based content ratings.

2) "While Hulu and Netflix both provide the option of a separate user profile for child viewers, there is nothing to stop a child from switching over to an adult profile with either service. Amazon does not provide a separate child user profile option.

3) "Netflix offers categories of content that viewers may find offensive, which often feature pornographic titles and cover art, and which often appear in close proximity to child-friendly categories – with no clear or obvious way of eliminating those categories from menu screens.

4) "Likewise, a child viewer using Amazon Prime Video may need to scroll past adult-themed titles and cover art on promoted original content in order to access child-friendly content.

5)  "None of the SVOD services offers family plans which would allow parents to block all explicit title at all times and across all devices. A portion of the user’s subscription fee is going to underwrite explicit content.

6) "Among streaming devices, Chromecast was most limited, but that limited functionality gives parents a high degree of control over the content streamed over the device.

7) "AppleTV alone among the devices we looked at, applies parental controls to music and podcasts, as well as video content.

8) "Roku offers PIN-controlled restrictions to the channel store, and V-Chip-type content control on Antenna-TV input, but no additional content restrictions for SVOD services."

“While most streaming services do offer plenty of content for young children, there is a severe lack of original general audience or family programming across the services," said the report's author, Melissa Henson, PTC program director. "If your child is too old for Bubble Guppies but not yet old enough for Stranger Things, most services have little to offer, even despite the fact that programming for families could be exceptionally profitable, as animated films are for the movie industry."

For the report, PTC staffers looked at Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Google Chromecast, and Roku as well as SVOD services Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix to assess "whether age- based or content ratings are being used; how easy or difficult it is for a parent to determine a program’s rating; and the availability of family-appropriate original content."

John Eggerton
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.