BBFC, Netflix age ratings partnership
March 14, 2019
By Colin Mann
Responding to parents’ demand for greater consistency across video on demand and online games platforms, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has launched what it says is an innovative new industry collaboration with Netflix to move towards classifying all content on the service using BBFC age ratings.
Netflix will produce BBFC age ratings for content using a manual tagging system along with an automated rating algorithm, with the BBFC taking up an auditing role. Netflix and the BBFC will work together to make sure Netflix’s classification process produces ratings which are consistent with the BBFC’s Classification Guidelines for the UK.
It comes as new research by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Video Standards Council Rating Board (VSC) has revealed that almost 80 per cent of parents are concerned about children seeing inappropriate content on video on demand or online games platforms.
The BBFC and the VSC have joined forces to respond to calls from parents and are publishing a joint set of Best Practice Guidelines to help online services deliver what UK consumers want.
The Best Practice Guidelines will help online platforms work towards greater and more consistent use of trusted age ratings online. The move is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the Government’s strategy to make the UK the safest place to be online.
This includes recommending the use of consistent and more comprehensive use of BBFC age labelling symbols across all Video On Demand (VoD) services, and PEGI symbols across online games services, including additional ratings info and mapping parental controls to BBFC age ratings and PEGI ratings.
The voluntary Guidelines are aimed at VoD services offering video content to UK consumers via subscription, purchase and rental, but exclude pure catch-up TV services such as iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My 5 and UKTV Player.
The research also shows that 90 per cent of parents believe that it is important to display age ratings when downloading or streaming a film online, and 92 per cent of parents think it’s important for video on demand platforms to show the same type of age ratings they would expect at the cinema or on DVD and Blu-ray – confirmed by 94 per cent of parents saying it’s important to have consistent ratings across all video on demand platforms, rather than a variety of bespoke ratings systems.
With nine in 10 (94 per cent) parents believing it is important to have consistent ratings across all online game platforms rather than a variety of bespoke systems, the VSC is encouraging services to join the likes of Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo and Google in providing consumers with the nationally recognised PEGI ratings on games – bringing consistency between the offline and online worlds.
The Video Recordings Act requires that the majority of video works and video games released on physical media must be classified by the BBFC or the VSC prior to release. While there is no equivalent legal requirement that online releases must be classified, the BBFC has been working with VOD services since 2008, and the VSC has been working with online games platforms since 2003. The Best Practice Guidelines aim to build on the good work that is already happening, and both authorities are now calling for the online industry to work with them in 2019 and beyond to better protect children.
“Our research clearly shows a desire from the public to see the same trusted ratings they expect at the cinema, on DVD and on Blu-ray when they choose to watch material online,” advised David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC. “We know that it’s not just parents who want age ratings, teenagers want them too. We want to work with the industry to ensure that families are able to make the right decisions for them when watching content online.”
“We have always believed that consumers wanted a clear, consistent and readily recognisable rating system for online video games and this research has certainly confirmed that view,” added Ian Rice, Director General of the VSC. “While the vast majority of online game providers are compliant and apply PEGI ratings to their product, it is clear that more can be done to help consumers make an informed purchasing decision. To this end, the best practice recommendations will certainly make a valuable contribution in achieving this aim.”
“Our ambition is for the UK to be the safest place to be online, which means having age ratings parents know and trust applied to all online films and video games,” declared Digital Minister Margot James. “I welcome the innovative collaboration announced today by Netflix and the BBFC, but more needs to be done.”
“It is important that more of the industry takes this opportunity for voluntary action, and I encourage all video on demand and games platforms to adopt the new best practice standards set out by the BBFC and Video Standards Council.”
The BBFC is looking at innovative ways to open up access to its classifications to ensure that more online video content goes live with a trusted age rating. The BBFC and Netflix announce a year-long self-ratings pilot which will see the online streaming service move towards in-house classification using BBFC age ratings, under licence.
Netflix will use an algorithm to apply BBFC Guideline standards to its own content, with the BBFC setting those standards and auditing ratings to ensure consistency. The goal is to work towards 100 per cent coverage of BBFC age ratings across the platform.
“The BBFC is a trusted resource in the UK for providing classification information to parents and consumers and we are excited to expand our partnership with them,” commented Mike Hastings, Director of Editorial Creative at Netflix. “Our work with the BBFC allows us to ensure our members always press play on content that is right for them and their families.”
“We are fully committed to helping families choose content that is right for them, and this partnership with Netflix will help us in our goal to do just that,” suggested Austin. “By partnering with the biggest streaming service, we hope that others will follow Netflix’s lead and provide comprehensive, trusted, well understood age ratings and ratings info, consistent with film and DVD, on their UK platforms. The partnership shows how the industry are working with us to find new and innovative ways to deliver 100 per cent age ratings for families.”