The MPAA Reveals Some Details of its Famously Secretive Rating System

Posted on November 3, 2018 at 8:18 am

As the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has revealed some details of its first half-century. The rating system was instituted after three decades of the famous, highly restrictive Hays Code, was no longer workable in the tumultuous 1960’s. Filmmakers and audiences wanted a wider range of material and movies like “The Pawnbroker” and “Carnal Knowledge” were undeniably (even, in the latter case, SCOTUS confirmed) of artistic merit. So then MPAA head Jack Valenti adopted a parental guidance rating which was further refined over the years. The documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated” exposed some of the failings of the system, including inconsistent ratings based on whether the movie was independent or studio-made, the lack of any qualifications of the secret raters, and the absurdity of the appeal system.

The LA Times reports on the MPAA’s new report on 50 years of movie ratings:

In the eyes of many filmmakers, the Motion Picture Assn. of America should be rated R — for reticent. The MPAA has long kept its rating methods a tightly guarded secret as it continues to wield enormous power over the types of explicit content that can been shown in U.S. cinemas.

Now the MPAA is drawing back the curtain on its rating system, at least partially. In a new report published Monday, the Washington-based trade organization representing Hollywood’s major studios released data on all films rated since the system was created five decades ago. The MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration has rated 29,791 movies, the majority of which have received an R rating, which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The most films the MPAA has reviewed in any given year was in 2003, when it rated 940 titles (compared with just 563 last year). The organization attributed the surge to the popularity of DVDs at the time.

R-rated movies account for nearly 58% of all titles rated by the MPAA, followed by PG at 18%. The dreaded NC-17, and its predecessor the X, accounted for less than 2% of titles, though they have garnered the vast share of negative publicity whenever a director has sought an appeal. NC-17 prohibits children younger than 17 from entry into a movie theater.

The MPAA said that of the nearly 30,000 films it has rated, only 1.4%, or 428, have been appealed, and a scant 0.6% have had their rating overturned. Filmmakers often appeal NC-17 and R ratings in an effort to reach the largest audience possible. Recent successful appeals include Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” which went from R to PG-13, and the upcoming Rebel Wilson comedy “The Hustle,” which was also reduced to PG-13.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

FCC: It’s Time to Look at the TV Rating System!

Posted on May 9, 2016 at 11:19 pm

The television ratings system has failed badly. It is secret, inconsistent, and completely out of touch with current technology. There is no accountability or oversight and no way to challenge the decisions made by insiders. I am proud to join with 28 organizations devoted to protecting children and media literacy in calling for a review by the FCC.

The content ratings system as currently constituted is deeply flawed because the power to assign program content ratings was assigned to the same networks where the content originates. This has created an inherent and tremendous conflict of interest: It is to a network’s advantage to mis-rate its programming for a younger audience so as to gain a larger viewing audience; and a majority of corporate advertisers choose not to advertise on television programming that is rated for Mature Audiences Only. Unlike motion pictures and video games, there is no independent evaluation of the age-based rating system for television.
An incorrect content rating renders the V-chip worthless. If a parent programs their television’s V-chip to block programs rated as appropriate for “Mature Audiences Only,” their child will still be exposed to graphic and explicit material. Whether accidental or intentional, an informal practice has developed whereby broadcast networks never rate any of their programming “mature only,” no matter how graphic, explicit or inappropriate its content may be for children. As a result, extreme, graphic content is rated appropriate for 14-year-old children; and other programs with adult content are even rated PG.

The TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) has enabled and sheltered this flawed content ratings system, rather than following its Congressional and FCC mandate to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the system:

TVOMB is not accountable to anyone outside its own membership, nor is it transparent to the parents it supposedly serves. Most Americans don’t even know TVOMB exists. They don’t know that TVOMB is in charge of the ratings system, or how to contact its members.

Parents have never been told the names of those who sit on TVOMB; why they are qualified to sit on TVOMB; how they are appointed; when or where TVOMB meets; how they determine what content ratings TV programs ought to have; or how they respond to complaints from parents and other citizens.

The public is not allowed to attend TVOMB meetings. Representatives from the FCC are not allowed to attend meetings. Members of the press are not allowed to attend meetings. There is no transparency beyond the TVOMB members.

TVOMB is composed of a chairman and 23 members, including six members each from the broadcast television industry, the cable industry, and the program production community. There are only five non-industry seats on a board of 23, despite the board’s express purpose being to serve the needs of parents; and as of this writing, not all five of the non-industry seats are filled. Of those five non-industry seats on TVOMB, all are appointed by the TVOMB chairman (an industry member).

In other words, the body charged with oversight of the television content ratings system is comprised of those whom it is supposed to be monitoring. Under the current system, the same people who create TV content then rate the content they’ve created, and also run the board that oversees the rating process. They also produce an occasional public opinion survey that validates the current system.

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Commentary Parenting

MPAA Ratings and Community Differences on Sex and Violence

Posted on March 13, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Joan Graves heads up the MPAA’s ratings board and she is the only member whose name is public. She talked to The Wrap about some intriguing regional difference in views on sex and violence.

“The South is concerned about using the Lord’s name in vain. They’d like to see the improper use of ‘Jesus Christ’ draw an automatic R,” Graves said. “In the Midwest it’s the nudity and sex, and on the coasts there is greater interest in the violence.”

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Game Makers Push for Consistent Ratings on Multiple Platforms

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Television has parental guidance ratings that go from TV-Y (all audiences) to TV-MA (mature audiences).  Movies have the MPAA rating system, from G to NC-17.  The recording industry has a parental advisory label. Games are rated EC (early childhood) to A (adults only).  All of these ratings have problems — for one reason, they are all imposed by the industry itself, which creates conflicts of interest.  The procedures and criteria should be more transparent.  And it is confusing to have so many different standards.But there was good news this week when John Riccitiello, the head of Electronic Arts, made a presentation to top government officials calling for a significant improvement in game ratings — consistency across all platforms. When the ratings were developed, games were played on computers and stand-alone devices. Now they are played on a much wider range of options including smartphones and social media. “We must move beyond the alphabet soup of game ratings and consolidate behind a single standard that consumers will recognize and, ultimately, demand,” he said.  A good step in the right direction.

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Television Expands Content Ratings

Posted on June 11, 2012 at 11:22 am

It didn’t make sense to have “content ratings” advising parents of adult content in programs when they were broadcast but not when they were viewed online.  So I join FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, TVWatch, and others who have been advocating for content information online in applauding ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo and Univision for agreeing to include the same information in for online streaming viewers that they do on television.  The information will be available by the end of the year.

The independent board that monitors the use of the ratings found that:

72 percent of parents report having rules about TV use;
68 percent of parents say they use the TV ratings system;
88 percent of parents are aware that the TV ratings system provides guidance based on the age of the child;
36 percent of parents use either a V-Chip or cable/satellite-provided parental controls and
95 percent of parents who use the ratings most often find them helpful.

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