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Disney/ABC tightens TV ad policy after federal report on children & violent media

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (BP)–The Walt Disney Company, sensitized to cultural issues by an ongoing boycott by various evangelical groups, has announced its ABC network will not accept R-rated movie commercials on any TV show airing before 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Disney’s Sept. 12 announcement came a day after the release of a Federal Trade Commission report that, while not mentioning specific companies by name, cited “evidence of marketing and media plans [in the entertainment industry] that expressly target children under 17.”

The Disney/ABC announcement primarily addresses “exceptions” to ABC’s prior policy regarding commercials for R-rated movies, Disney spokesman John Dreyer told The New York Times. “From now on,” he said, “there will be no exceptions.”

The evangelical boycott of Disney, focusing on such issues as the company’s funding of homosexual activist organizations and its subsidiaries’ production of R-rated movies in sexual and violent content, was begun in 1995 by the American Family Association and joined in 1997 by the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Focus on the Family and other evangelical groups. The boycott is continuing.

The Federal Trade Commission study of the marketing of violent movies, music and video games to children was commissioned by President Clinton shortly after the massacre at Columbine High School in suburban Denver in April 1999.

Concerning the marketing of violent movies to children, the FTC report stated:

“Of the 44 movies rated R for violence the commission selected for its study, … 35, or 80 percent, were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans for 28 of those 44, or 64 percent, contained express statements that the film’s target audience included children under 17. For example, one plan for a violent R-rated film stated, ‘Our goal was to find the elusive teen target audience and make sure everyone between the ages of 12-18 was exposed to the film.'” The commission also cited another promotional plan for fliers and posters for an R-rated film to be distributed, at least in the Kansas City area, to organizations such as the Campfire Boys and Girls.

Concerning violent video games, the FTC stated:

“O the 118 electronic games with a Mature rating for violence the commission selected for its study, 83, or 70 percent, targeted children under 17. The marketing plans for 60 of these, or 51 percent, expressly included children under 17 in their target audience. For example, one plan for a game rated Mature for its violent content described its ‘target audience’ as ‘Males 12-17 — Primary; Males 18-34 — Secondary.’ … Most of the plans that targeted an under-17 audience set age 12 as the younger end of the spectrum, but a few plans for violent Mature-rated games targeted children as young as 6.”

Concerning violence-laden music, the FTC stated:

“Of the 55 music recordings with explicit content labels the commission selected for its study, marketing plans for 15, or 27 percent, expressly identified teenagers as part of their target audience. … The marketing documents for the remaining 40 explicit-content labeled recordings examined did not expressly state the age of the target audience, but they detailed the same methods of marketing as the plans that specifically identified teens as part of their target audience, including placing advertising in media that would reach a majority or substantial percentage of children under 17.”

Among the media used by the entertainment industry for advertising to children, according to the FTC report, are such TV shows as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “South Park;” magazines such as Teen, Seventeen, YM, Game Pro, Right On! and Jump; and Internet sites such as mtv.com, happypuppy.com and ubl.com.

Among TV networks in addition to ABC, CBS declined comment to The New York Times on its policies; NBC stated it does not accept commercials for R-rated films on any show with children comprising 30 percent or more of its audience, with an NBC official acknowledging to The Times that none of its shows have been affected by the restriction; and Fox prohibits commercials for R-rated films on any show considered to be family oriented, including “The Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”