Adult Music Pitched To Kids: FTC

WASHINGTON — Children are being targeted with ads for adult-themed music despite the recording industry’s promise last year to revise advertising practices, said a report by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC singled out the music industry as the worst offender in a study on the marketing of adult movies, music and video games to minors. Record companies were an “almost complete failure” in making reforms, the agency said.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said labeling changes took effect last October and haven’t had time to work. She added the FTC “makes a big leap” in concluding that ad campaigns on networks like MTV were aimed at children.

The FTC has been monitoring the movie, music and video-game industries after finding last year that the three were aggressively promoting products that carry adult ratings to children. Some members of Congress want to impose advertising restrictions and give the FTC authority to fine companies that market adult-rated material to minors.

“That the music industry would continue to make a killing off marketing violence to kids is irresponsible and wrong,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.). “We’re really trying to give the industry every chance possible. If they continue to press the envelope … they’d be inviting stronger responses.”

While the FTC beraded the music industry, its report praised movie and video-game makers for significant improvements in their advertising practices.

FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said, “Self-regulation continues to be the preferred solution to problems in this area.” He challenged record companies to make changes before fall, when another FTC report to Congress is planned.

“This report demonstrates that while improvements have been made in some sectors, the allure of the marketing dollar appears to pose a challenge to self-regulation,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.) said in a statement with Sens. Brownback, Fritz Hollings (D., S.C.) and Max Cleland (D., Ga.).

The report said the top five recording companies — Vivendi Universal’s (V) Universal Music Group, AOL Time Warner Inc.’s (AOL) Warner Music Group, Sony Corp. (SNE), BMG, the music arm of Bertelsmann AG, and EMI Group PLC — advertised adult music on television programs and in magazines with audiences mainly under age 17.

For example, MTV’s after-school hours were a busy time for ads for recordings with adult lyrics, according to the report. The study also found ads in teen magazines for groups like Blink-182, Crazy Town and Rage Against the Machine, whose recordings contain explicit lyrics.

Ms. Rosen said record companies fulfill their responsibility to parents with a labeling system that warns of explicit content in music. Companies began including the labels on print advertisements for recordings last fall.

“We agree that we need to do a better job of following our own guidelines,” she added.

The FTC report said only about one-fourth of reviewed television and magazine ads for adult music had parental-advisory labels. When labels were used, they were often too small to read and didn’t say why the album had the warning.

Meanwhile, movie studios “have been effective in not placing ads in print media with substantial youth readership,” the report noted. But the FTC was still critical of the placement of ads for R-rated movies during television programs popular with teens, as well as the small size of rating explanations in ads.

Last fall, studios agreed to guidelines to curtail underage marketing. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the report shows the association’s self-policing “is working, with some minor adjustments still to be made.”

The FTC report said that while the video-game industry “may be limiting its advertising on popular teen television programs,” it continued to advertise adult games in magazines with young readers.

One entertainment violence monitoring group, The Lion & Lamb Project in Maryland, said that despite the report’s praise, “all three industries still have a long way to go before they win back parents’ trust.”

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