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FTC survey: Theater owners better at enforcing movie ratings

March 25, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • Christoph Waltz, center, stars in the R-rated movie "Django Unchained." A survey by the FTC credits theater owners for improved enforcement of its ratings system.
Christoph Waltz, center, stars in the R-rated movie "Django Unchained."… (Andrew Cooper / Weinstein…)

An undercover government survey credits movie theaters for making a "marked improvement" in keeping underage audiences away from R-rated movies.

The Federal Trade Commission arranged for 13- to 16-year-olds, unaccompanied by a parent, to attempt to buy R-rated movie tickets and similarly rated DVDs, music CDs and video games -- including CDs carrying a parental advisory label (PAL) that warns of explicit content and video games rated M, which means they may be unsuitable for people age 17 and under. 

Between April and June 2012, the teenagers attempted to buy movie tickets and entertainment products from national and regional chain stores and theaters across the United States.

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According to the FTC, movie theaters are doing a better job of keeping younger consumers away from R-rated movies.

Less than one-quarter of underage shoppers were able to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie, down from one-third in 2010. In fact, ratings enforcement at the movie box office is at its highest level since the FTC began its survey in 2000, the agency said.

"Four of the seven major theater chains have demonstrated a statistically significant trend toward increased enforcement of the R-rating at the box office since 2000," the FTC said in a statement.

The survey comes at a time when Hollywood is facing pressure to take steps to reduce violence in movies, television shows and video games in the wake of tragic shootings last year at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. The National Assn. of Theatre Owners is working on a public service announcement that will better educate parents about its ratings.

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“This report and its results continue to reinforce the importance and effectiveness of the voluntary ratings system,” said John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. "We will continue to do our part in enforcing the voluntary ratings system that allows creators to create and parents to make informed decisions about their children’s entertainment.”

In other findings, 30% of shoppers were able to purchase R-rated DVDs compared with 38% in 2010, and 30% were able to buy unrated DVDs, down from 47% in 2010.

Unchanged from 2010, 13% of underage teenage shoppers were able to buy M-rated video games – the highest level of compliance among the industries.

In addition, for the first time since the FTC began its mystery shopping program in 2000, music CD retailers turned away more than half of the undercover shoppers, according to the report.

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