It has probably happened to every home video renter by now.
When the hits you really wanted were rented out, you plowed through all those titles you've never heard of. Whether you were in the market for family fare or something more adult, you looked for the rating for guidance, since you learned long ago not to trust the hype on the packages. But you found that many of them aren't rated.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 18, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 6 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Video Software Dealer is an independent magazine. It was mistakenly identified in Calendar on July 8 as an affiliate of the Video Software Dealers Assn.
How how much nudity and violence is in an unrated film such as "Monsters From Hell" or "The Mad Gangster"?
Unrated films pose problems for retailers too. When renting to children younger than 17, how do they know which product is too sexy or too violent? Complaints from the youngsters' parents might cost the retailer customers. Even worse, if there are too many complaints, community leaders might come down on the retailer for renting adult fare to minors.
So far the home-video industry has counted on the ratings issued by the Motion Picture Assn. of America--the familiar G, PG, PG-13, R and X. Since renting movies--major movies in particular--accounts for the bulk of the industry's revenues, most of the titles in any store carry one of those ratings.
The problem is the absence of ratings on TV movies, made-for-video movies and movies that were never released theatrically. Apparently, the primary reason they're not rated is the expense of an MPAA rating, which is based on the film's budget. Securing a rating may cost thousands of dollars.
But MPAA President Jack Valenti revealed an unfamiliar MPAA doctrine: "If the producer can't afford to have a film rated, we do it free. Nobody who comes in for a rating is ever turned away."
An organization of small video companies, the Independent Video Programmers Assn., has a solution to the problem of unrated videos. In January, the group introduced a rating system just for home video.
The IVPA ratings, assigned by the Film Advisory Board, include: L: language; EL: extreme language; V: violence; EV: extreme violence; S: sex; EP3: Explicit sex; N: nudity; EN: extreme nudity, and SA: substance abuse.
The appeal of this ratings system would be mainly to small video companies--like the members of the IVPA--that deal mostly in unrated products. These companies, IVPA President Danny Kopels said, also have the most to lose if laws are passed prohibiting the sale and rental of unrated videos. Heading off such legislation, he said, is one of the aims of the IVPA rating system.
"A number of states are talking about passing such laws," Kopels said. "That would hurt the small companies who put out most of the unrated movies."
Added Barry Collier, president of Prism Entertainment, a video company that mostly releases unrated movies: "Video stores prefer titles that are rated. If a title is not rated, there's less of a chance that retailers will carry it. They don't want the hassles that come with unrated titles."
So far, however, the IVPA hasn't really dented the problem. "About 200 to 250 titles per month are released on home video," Kopels said. "About 150 of them aren't rated."
How many movies has the IVPA rated since it began in January? "Twenty-four," Kopels said. But many don't think IVPA ratings are the answer. Valenti, who has an obvious allegiance to the current system, said, "I don't think there's room for another rating system. It's too confusing to the public."
Prism's Collier agreed: "One system is fine. It's hard for the consumer to deal with two systems."
Allan Caplan, head of the Midwest's Applause Video chain, said, "That (IVPA) ratings system is too complicated. Who needs all those letters to rate one movie?"
One of the IVPA's problems is low visibility. "They haven't done a good job of promoting themselves," said Jack Schember, editor of Video Software Dealer magazine, an arm of the Video Software Dealers Assn. "They won't get industry support until more people in the industry know what they do."
Like executives at other major video companies, Eric Doctorow, Paramount Home Video's senior vice president and general manager, feels the proliferation of unrated home-video products is mainly a problem for smaller companies.
"The ratings issue is primarily with movies--and all of our features are MPAA rated," he said.
But even the majors deal in minor unrated movies, or assorted non-theatrical titles that aren't rated. Doctorow, however, said it isn't necessary to rate everything.
"Why rate how-tos or exercise programs? Just because everything you put out isn't rated, that doesn't mean the company isn't responsible. Whatever Paramount puts out that isn't rated--like kidvid, TV movies and comedy shows--isn't thrown on the market without any kind of information to guide the consumer. For instance, for comedy programs, we indicate on the package whether the program has strong language or sexual content."
Fed up with the headache of unrated videos, some retailers, Schember said, have taken matters into their own hands: "Retailers in some places make up their own ratings. They got tired of waiting for something better to come along."