The FTC conducted a survey with 13-to-16-year-old undercover shoppers to collect data about the extent to which retailers prevent unaccompanied children from buying tickets to R-rated movies, R-rated DVDs, Unrated DVDs of movies that were R-rated in theaters, M-rated video games, and music CDs labeled with a Parental Advisory Label – “PAL” – for explicit content.
The survey found that 20% of underage teenage shoppers were able to buy M-rated video games, a major improvement from all prior surveys, and down from 42% in 2006. While CD and DVD retailers demonstrated some improvement since the 2006 survey, roughly half of the undercover shoppers still were able to purchase R-rated and Unrated movie DVDs and PAL music CDs. The fact that so many children were able to purchase Unrated movie DVDs – some of which contain content that, if rated, might result in an NC-17 rating – indicates that retailers need to re-double their efforts in this area. Although movie theaters have improved since the 2000 shop, they still sold R-rated movie tickets to unaccompanied children 35% of the time, demonstrating no statistically significant improvement in ratings enforcement since 2003.
The survey found that results of the undercover shopping varied by retailer and product. Three movie chains – National Entertainment, Regal Entertainment Group, and American Multi-Cinema – turned away 80% or more of the underage teens who tried to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie. Wal-Mart did the best of the major retailers shopped for movie DVDs, denying sales of R-rated and Unrated DVDs to 75% of the child shoppers.
With regard to M-rated video games, Game Stop rejected an impressive 94% of underage shoppers, while Wal-Mart and Best Buy spurned 80% of them. Some stores had very different results for different media. For example, while Best Buy rejected 80% of underage buyers of video games, it turned away underage shoppers for PAL music only 47% of the time, R-rated movie DVDs only 38% of the time, and Unrated movie DVDs only 17% of the time. Similarly, Target refused to sell M-rated games to underage buyers 71% of the time, but refused sales of PAL music only 40% of the time, R-rated movie DVDs only 35% of the time, and Unrated movie DVDs in only 23% of the cases.
Statement of Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family:
“The results of the Federal Trade Commission’s latest undercover survey are good news for retailers and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), but most of all for parents. For eight years, retailers have steadily improved their enforcement efforts to keep inappropriate video games out of the hands of kids.
“With its consistent pressure on the video game industry, National Institute on Media and the Family played a significant role in improving ratings enforcement and education. Similar to our previous MediaWise Video Game Report Cards, the FTC survey shows that specialty retailers, such as GameStop, continue to lead in enforcement and the rental companies need to step up their efforts. The time has come for the ESRB, retailers and parental advocacy organizations to work together to ensure retailers are compliant and parents understand game ratings.
“While parents can breathe a little easier from these results, it does not mean they should be less vigilant in knowing what video games their kids are purchasing, renting and playing. Again, parents need to ‘watch what their kids watch, play what their kids play.’”
"This is an extraordinary accomplishment from the nation's leading interactive entertainment retailers, as it clearly shows their increased commitment of keeping mature-rated games out of children's hands," said Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association, the non-profit membership organization which represents US video game players (gamers). “Perhaps most impressive is the incredible reversal in their failure rate over such a short period of time and with a comparatively new rating system. This is truly a vindication for video game merchants who have been falsely damned by anti-game advocates and special interest groups, who now don’t have a leg to stand on. Our congratulations and thanks are extended to these retailers, who, above music and movie merchants, have proven their word, empowered parents and shown a commitment to corporate social responsibility.”