Advocacy group: ‘SVoD services unsafe for children’

In a new study of the top US streaming video platforms and content providers, the Parents Television Council – a non-partisan education organisation advocating responsible entertainment – found that children have easy access to adult content, in part, because the parental controls are lax or non-existent.

The PTC research also found that the majority of original streaming content was rated TV-MA (mature audiences only). On Netflix, 65 per cent of original/exclusive TV programming is rated TV-MA, while 1 per cent is rated G, and 8 per cent rated PG.

“Parents who believe they’ve found a safer TV environment for their children by relying on Netflix, or other streaming services, will be shocked to learn that these devices and services generally do not protect kids from adult content,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

“Our research found that kids have very easy access to adult content on these devices and services, even when parental controls are used – and if parental controls are available at all. This news demands change, given that these services try to hook families into subscribing by using children’s programming as bait and giving a false sense of protection and control.”

This new PTC report, Over-the-Top or a Race to the Bottom: A Parent’s Guide to Streaming Video, assesses and grades the robustness of the parental controls and the availability of child- or family-appropriate programming on the most popular Over-the-Top (OTT) streaming devices including Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Google Chromecast, and Roku, and the most popular Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) services: Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix.

“While most streaming services do offer plenty of content for young children, there is a severe lack of original general audience or family programming across the services. If your child is too old for Bubble Guppies but not yet old enough for Stranger Things, most services have little to offer, even despite the fact that programming for families could be exceptionally profitable, as animated films are for the movie industry,” said PTC Program Director Melissa Henson, the study’s author.

PTC President Winter recommends that several changes be made to better assist families. “We are asking the SVOD and OTT industries to better serve families by using some consistent form of age-based content ratings, and work to improve parental controls in order to keep kids from accessing adult content, in addition to offering more family content for kids of all age groups,” he said.

Main findings

  • Among top SVoD providers, there is no consistency in the application or visibility of aged-based content ratings.
  • While Hulu and Netflix both provide the option of a separate user profile for child viewers, there is nothing to stop a child from switching over to an adult profile with either service. Amazon does not provide a separate child user profile option.
  • Netflix offers categories of content that viewers may find offensive, which often feature pornographic titles and cover art, and which often appear in close proximity to child-friendly categories – with no clear or obvious way of eliminating those categories from menu screens.
  • Likewise, a child viewer using Amazon Prime Video may need to scroll past adult-themed titles and cover art on promoted original content in order to access child-friendly content.
  • None of the SVoD services offer family plans which would allow parents to block all explicit title at all times and across all devices. A portion of the user’s subscription fee is going to underwrite explicit content.
  • Among streaming devices, Chromecast was most limited, but that limited functionality gives parents a high degree of control over the content streamed over the device.
  • AppleTV alone among the devices we looked at, applies parental controls to music and podcasts, as well as video content.
  • Roku offers PIN-controlled restrictions to the channel store, and V-Chip-type content control on Antenna-TV input, but no additional content restrictions for SVoD services.

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