FTC Survey 

The results of the latest Federal Trade Commission survey of ratings enforcement show that DVD and video game retailers are doing a very good job enforcing the video game and motion picture ratings in their stores. It’s important for retailers to maintain these strong levels of ratings enforcement, as parents look to them to assist them in controlling their children’s media consumption.

After the Columbine shootings, which brought attention to the ability of minors to gain access to movies and video games that contain depictions of violence, the Federal Trade Commission began conducting periodic surveys of retailer enforcement the motion picture and video game ratings, as well as the music labeling system. 

I think all of us in the industry were unpleasantly surprised with the results of the first FTC survey, released in September 2000. The FTC found that unaccompanied 13- to 16-year-olds it sent into stores were able to purchase Mature-rated games 84 percent of the time and to purchase R-rated videos 81% of the time. A couple of years later, the FTC began doing surveys of the ability of minors to purchase unrated DVD versions of movies rated R for theatrical exhibition and found a 29% turn-down rate for 13- to 16-year-olds who attempted to purchase them.

Clearly, we were not doing a very good job.

To the retail sector’s credit, and with the assistance of the motion picture studios and video game publishers, the CARA (motion picture) and ESRB (video game) ratings boards, and EMA and its predecessors, the Video Software Dealers Association and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, this was wake-up call and retailers committed to do a better job. Policies were revisited, training was reinforced, and in-store materials were refreshed.

Since that survey, retailers have made steady and significant improvements in their ratings enforcement.

The FTC survey released last month, the eighth report in the series, found that video game retailers turned away unaccompanied 13- to 16-year-olds who attempted to purchase Mature-rated games 87% of the time. In the survey, video game retailers matched their historic high level of enforcement, reached in the 2011 survey, and the 87% turn-down rate is the highest level of enforcement of any retail group in any of the FTC surveys.

In the case of DVDs, the FTC found that in 70% of the cases retailers turned away 13- to 16-year-olds that it sent into stores to purchase R-rated DVDs. Additionally, it reported that retailers had an identical 70% turn-down rate for unrated DVD versions of movies rated R in theaters. These were the highest levels of enforcement by DVD retailers in the eight surveys since 2000.

The complete results of the FTC survey can be found online at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/03/mysteryshop.shtm.

Retailers and their partners are to be commended for these increases in enforcement. However, we cannot get complacent. Ratings enforcement needs to be a priority for home video and video game retailers. And as good as the current numbers are today, there is still room for improvement.

It is not only good business to assist parents by enforcing the ratings in their stores, it is also imperative for the industry to demonstrate to policymakers that voluntary industry self-regulation can and does work. We have seen the kind of pernicious legislation that arises when lawmakers think retailers are not doing a good job enforcing the ratings. EMA has devoted significant resources over the years to fighting these misguided proposals – in one case, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m glad to say we have been successful with our legal battles. But our best argument against government regulation is effective ratings enforcement in stores.

So let’s give retailers a hand for the effectiveness of their ratings enforcement and encourage them to keep up the good work – for the sake of kids, parents and the industry.

Originally published in Home Media Magazine, April 15, 2013

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