Movie Mom

Movie Mom


MPAA Trailer Rule Update

posted by Nell Minow

Top entertainment reporter/commentator for the LA Times Patrick Goldstein wrote a terrific blog post about my story on the MPAA’s secret change to the rules governing the content of trailers, calling the consequences of this change “a whole new level of unintelligibility.” My story in the Chicago Sun-Times and commentary here got nice mentions in Christianity Today (thank you, Brandon Fibbs), Reel Fanatic (thank you, Keith Demko), and Movie Marketing Madness (thank you, Chris Thilk). And thanks to Kevin “BDK” McCarthy for inviting me to discuss this issue in his weekly podcast.
I heard from the MPAA, too. Elizabeth Kaltman, MPAA vice president for corporate communications, who was quoted in my article, wrote a comment here on my blog post. Here it is in full, followed by my response:

Ms. Minow got it wrong. The MPAA’s Advertising Administration has not eliminated restrictions on film advertising; rather, we have further enhanced the process to ensure appropriate content is put in front of the right audiences. To be clear, what this means is that the content of the trailer is appropriate for the audience viewing the trailer with the movie they have chosen to see.

The intent of the change from “All Audience” tags to “Appropriate Audience” tags is to indicate to the audience that we consider the placement of the advertising material is appropriate for that audience, but that it may not be appropriate for all audiences. This change allows distributors greater freedom to accurately target and promote their movies, while at the same time honoring our pledge to parents that stronger advertising material will not reach younger audiences.

As Ms. Minow accurately points out, the Advertising Administration goes to great lengths to limit access to content which is intended for mature audiences.

Over the course of many years we have received feedback from parents that content for some movies in a trailer with an “All Audiences” tag was misleading. This new change reflects the Advertising Administration’s increased vigilance to target advertising to appropriate audiences, in keeping with the purpose of ensuring that advertising content reflects the true spirit of the film.

First, I want to thank Ms. Kaltman, who was extremely helpful and responsive as I was writing my article. I appreciate the difficulty of her position. I know how hard it is to have to try to justify actions and positions like the ones taken by the MPAA here. I well understand the techniques of spin and distraction. I appreciate that she has tried her best, but her comment further reveals the failure of any credibility in the MPAA’s arguments. She is unable to dispute any of the facts or arguments I presented.
Ms. Kaltman begins by saying I am wrong, but she then explicitly or implicitly concedes every point I made. She says “To be clear, what this means is that the content of the trailer is appropriate for the audience viewing the trailer with the movie they have chosen to see.” Well, if some determination has been made about the content of the trailer, why not disclose it? Since a significant number of movie trailers are assigned to films by the theater manager, wouldn’t it be helpful to them as well as to parents to have enough information to be able to understand the basis for the “appropriate” determination? She does not respond to my point that a trailer with PG-13-level violence could be paired with a movie like this week’s “The Informant!” that is rated R for language only.
Significantly, Ms. Kaltman does not address the two most significant objections I made to the policy. The first is that the prevalence of trailers online, uncoupled from any “appropriate” feature films, makes it impossible to limit them to “appropriate” audiences. Aggregator sites like Yahoo! Movies, Apple Trailers, and YouTube show dozens of trailers that can be accessed by anyone, so there is not way to limit them to “appropriate” audiences. She says:

The intent of the change from “All Audience” tags to “Appropriate Audience” tags is to indicate to the audience that we consider the placement of the advertising material is appropriate for that audience, but that it may not be appropriate for all audiences. This change allows distributors greater freedom to accurately target and promote their movies, while at the same time honoring our pledge to parents that stronger advertising material will not reach younger audiences.

But she does not explain how to ensure that “stronger advertising material” that “may not be appropriate for all audiences” will “not reach younger audiences” when they can access the trailers online without any guidance for parents at the beginning of the trailer about the “stronger” material it contains.
My second objection is to the MPAA’s decision to make this change without any public announcement, explanation, or opportunity to comment. In what way is this “honoring our pledge to parents?”
Ms. Kaltman was unable to find a single factual error in what I wrote. She objects only to my characterization of the change in policy as “eliminating restrictions.” In her view they have “further enhanced the process.” I believe the dictionary supports my language. Material that previously was not permitted in a trailer is now permitted. That is what eliminating restrictions means. It is now harder to figure out whether a trailer contains material that may not be suitable for all audience members. That does not meet any definition of enhancing the process. Trying to sneak this change past parents is about as far from an enhancement as it is possible to be. I believe the MPAA knew they were doing something parents would not like and that is why they did not tell anyone.
I have written to the MPAA to ask them to reconsider this decision and to make a commitment to public disclosure of any further changes to the rules. I have also written to the Division of Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to ask them to investigate whether this change violates the rules about marketing inappropriate films to underage children. I have asked for meetings with both, and will keep you posted on any replies.



  • http://www.examiner.com/x-9207-Baltimore-Movie-Examiner Tom Clocker – Baltimore Movie Examiner

    Hmmm.
    I look forward to any developments that you may have with this situation. I think the biggest point is how available these trailers are, television, before films, ONLINE!
    They need to either stick with ALL audiences and make these trailers acceptable to everyone…or, simply give them similar ratings to films themselves (for example, no R-rated preview shown before PG-13 films, no PG-13 previews before PG, etc.).
    They would still be available all over the place, but the content would be labeled and ways to limit access could be established.
    And I completely agree with you that the wording change does not LIMIT content, but rather gives them LESS RESTRICTIONS. When ALL audiences was attached…that included 4-5 year-olds. With APPROPRIATE attached, they can show whatever they want and merely say “well, it was only intended for 13 and up to be shown at the PG-13 and higher rated films…we can’t help it if younger people saw it somewhere else.”
    So, keep up the good work and keep us posted!
    Tom Clocker
    Baltimore Movie Examiner

  • Bobbysixer

    nobody cares. theaters play trailers for movies that would be deemed acceptable for the group of people who are watching the movie right that minute in the theater
    my gosh

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Bobbysixer, who does the “deeming” and is there any reason to defer to their judgment? And what about the fact that most trailers are online, my gosh?

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Tom! I agree with you and hope they give me a chance to make exactly those points in person.

  • http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/man_not_belonging_to_movies?utm_source=b-section Kevin L.

    You’re quite right about the MPAA not being up front about this, but I do see one positive spin: If you show an “All Audiences” edited trailer, parents may not get the best information about the true nature of the movie being previewed. Loosening up to an “Appropriate Audinces” level may give a better idea.
    The issue of Internet access to all of this is part of a much bigger issue, that is not necessarily the MPAA’s responsibility.
    And the issue of parents bringing children to inappropriate movies (and, by extension now, inappropriate previews), is even older.
    And where will it all lead? See attached link.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Kevin! Very funny; I love The Onion. I do think it was not just disingenuous but downright reprehensible for the MPAA to sneak this through. And, as I said, I also understand the importance of making trailers that accurately reflect the film they are promoting, and in my previous post I gave the example of the “Saving Silverman” trailer that added CGI underwear to a character who was nude in the actual film. But part of that accuracy is a guideline in the opening screen that discloses the level of the material you are about to see. The original trailer rules had three categories, green, red, and yellow. They should for the first time make use of the yellow screen and give the basis for the “appropriate” designation.
    The one place where we disagree is about the MPAA’s responsibility for trailers posted online. Their own rules include all marketing. And since they base the “appropriate” designation on the feature the trailer precedes, the prevalence of trailers on the internet shows how flimsy that pretense really is.

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