FTC Report: Theaters Making 'Marked Improvement' in Enforcing Movie Ratings

Movie Theater Audience - H 2012
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Movie Theater Audience - H 2012

The music industry also is making gains in restricting the sale of explicit content to kids; the video game sector continues to have the highest levels of compliance.

The number of kids ages 16 years and younger who are allowed into an R-rated movie without an adult has hit a historic low as movie theaters work to increase enforcement efforts, according to a report issued Monday by the Federal Trade Commission.

Only 24 percent of those dispatched last year as part of the FTC's undercover survey were allowed to buy a ticket, compared with 33 percent in 2010. It's the lowest level since the FTC began its "mystery shopper" program in 2000.

As part of the program, the FTC last year dispatched groups of 13- to 16-year-olds to attempt to buy R-rated movie tickets, R-rated DVDs, unrated DVDs, music CDs carrying a parental advisory label that warns of explicit content and video games rated M (suitable for those ages 17 and above).

“Our underage shopper survey shows continued progress in reducing sales,” said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But retailers can still strengthen their commitment to limit children’s access to products that are rated or labeled as potentially inappropriate for them.”

National Association of Theatre Owners chairman-CEO John Fithian applauded the report's results, saying it further proves that the voluntary ratings systems employed by the movie, music and video game industries work.

“We are proud of the significant improvement in ratings enforcement at America’s movie theaters, and we renew our commitment to parents to continue to improve," Fithian said.

“This report and its results continue to reinforce the importance and effectiveness of the voluntary ratings system," he added. "As the Supreme Court noted in its decision in Brown v. EMA, retailers’ voluntary enforcement of the ratings provide an effective alternative to state regulation. 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.”

Retailers of R-rated and unrated DVDs also continued to increase their enforcement efforts, with only 30 percent of kids able to purchase R-rated DVDs, compared with 38 percent in 2010. Roughly 30 percent were able to buy unrated DVDs, down from 47 percent two years ago.

For the first time since the FTC began its monitoring program, music retailers turned away more than half of the underage shoppers trying to buy an explicit CD. In 2010, 64 percent were able to make the purchase.

Only 13 percent of underage shoppers were able to buy M-rated video games, unchanged from 2010 and the highest level of compliance among the various industries surveyed.