WASHINGTON – Movie executives promised Wednesday to stop marketing violent movies to children. But senators – angered by a Federal Trade Commission report that found companies intentionally marketed violent movies to children – were less than thrilled.
Responding to the highly critical report released earlier this month, Hollywood executives told a Senate hearing Wednesday they would stop “not appropriately, specifically marketing” violent movies to underage viewers.
But the vague language angered Commerce Committee chairman John McCain, who said the phrase was filled with loopholes.
“That language isn't good enough because it leaves a subjective decision in your hands,” McCain told the panel.
Although most of the executives pledged to stop marketing violent, R-rated movies to viewers under 17, Universal Pictures chairman Stacy Snider said that promise would be almost impossible to keep.
“In a free society, it is impossible to completely restrict advertising to people 17 and older,” she said from a prepared statement. “No matter how carefully we target our advertising, some people under 17 will inevitably see ads for R-rated movies.”
Snider and other executives also pointed to serious movies such as Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and Amistad, which while R-rated should be marketed to children because of their historical significance.
“There are many films we've released in the recent past which were R-rated, but that would be more than appropriate for certain young filmgoers to see with their parents,” Snider said.
But all the executives – representing Paramount, Fox Films, Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, MGM, DreamWorks and Universal – agreed to follow a new 12-point initiative created by the Motion Picture Association of America to curb marketing to children.
Under the group's guidelines, released Tuesday, movie companies will not show trailers for R-rated films prior to G-rated films. In addition, they will not include underage children in research screenings for R rated violent films, unless they are accompanied by an adult.
“DreamWorks has not and will not inappropriately target children in our advertising of films rated R for violence,” DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes told the committee. “But, the responsibility of ensuring that children view films that are age appropriate must ultimately be shared by the studios, networks, exhibitors and most importantly, parents.”
Some executives went further than the MPAA guidelines, with all but one company – Universal – pledging not to show trailers for R-rated, violent movies at PG movies.
Twentieth Century Fox Film said it will request theater owners not show any trailers advertising all R-rated movies before G and PG-rated films. Fox will also not advertise any R-rated movies on any network program in which 35 percent or more of the audience is under 17.
Warner Brothers said it will not enter into promotions with toy tie-ins or license merchandise for children in connection with R-rated movies. Disney president Robert Iger said he would ban advertisements for R-rated movies during the so called “Family Hour” from 8 to 9 p.m. on ABC. Disney owns ABC Television.
According to a September survey by the Parents Television council – a conservative watchdog group – 83 percent of movie advertisements during “Family Hour,” have R-ratings.
Wednesday's Senate Commerce committee panel is the second hearing in two weeks on the matter. Then, senators heard testimony from representatives of the video game and music industry on their marketing strategies to children. The hearing is the result of a scathing FTC report released earlier this month.
According to the report, 80 percent of the violent, R-rated movies studied were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans for 64 percent of the movies specifically stated that the film's target audience included children under 17.
For example, according to the FTC, one plan for a violent R-rated movie stated, “Our goal was to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12 to 18 was exposed to the film.”
“As the FTC report indicates, we have not always been as careful as we could have been,” said Rob Friedman, of Paramount, during his testimony. “I do not believe, however, that we systematically focus our advertising efforts for R-rated films toward young children.”
The report was commissioned by President Clinton following the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
Vice-President Al Gore and his running mate Joe Lieberman have called on the FTC to take action against the entertainment industry in six months if it did not respond to the report with new initiatives. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, threatened the panel with “some kind of legislation” if drastic marketing changes didn't take place.