Study: TV, Film Terror Themes OK

LOS ANGELES — Nine months after Sept. 11, Americans are concerned about further attacks but are ready to watch movies and TV shows with fictional terrorism or violent themes. Those are the topline findings of the latest survey on post-Sept. 11 consumer attitudes from Initiative Media North America.

The Internet survey of 500 respondents was conducted during the first weekend in June. The study is part of a series of surveys that Initiative has done since Sept. 11 to gauge consumers’ shifting points of view on the programs they watch.

Nearly one out of three respondents said they were concerned that terrorist activity will personally affect them or their families in the next five years. And 38 percent said they would be affected in their lifetimes.

Yet, despite a high level of coverage in the media about the effect of terrorist-themed TV shows and movies such as The Sum of All Fears, which features an atomic bomb exploding in Baltimore, 47 percent of respondents said they were comfortable watching fictional terrorist activities in thrillers.

Nearly half of all respondents said the same about such themes in comedy or action-adventure films. Only 29 percent said that studios should have delayed the release of movies depicting terrorism until after the anniversary of Sept. 11. Overall, 35 percent agreed that it is appropriate to incorporate fictional terrorism themes into television and movies for entertainment, while 32 percent disagreed.

One finding is of particular note to advertisers, however: Only 27 percent said it was appropriate for companies to advertise on network primetime shows that depict fictional terrorist activities, and 43 percent of all respondents said it was inappropriate.

“Looking at the new shows coming out in the upfront and recent movies, there were a lot of very violent themes and terrorist stories,” said Ira Sussman, evp/director of the Interpublic Group media network’s research arm, IM Futures. “We wanted to know if the timing was right. I was a little surprised at the magnitude of acceptance … but people are able to separate their entertainment from real life.”