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Netflix, the BBFC, and the VSC seek to make the UK the safest place to be online

New research by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Video Standards Council Rating Board (VSC) has revealed that almost 80% of parents are concerned about children seeing inappropriate content on video on demand or online games platforms.

While the best defense will always be for parents to have a more active role in what their children are exposed to, there is now more being done to help make this easier for busy parents.

One such move was made today when the BBFC launched an innovative new industry collaboration with Netflix that will move towards classifying all content on the service using BBFC age ratings.

Using a manual tagging system, along with an automated rating algorithm, Netflix will produce BBFC age ratings for its content. The role of the BBFC will be as an auditor to assure the ratings are consistent with the BBFC’s Classification Guidelines for the UK.

Additionally the BBFC and the VSC have joined forces to publish 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.

The plan includes recommending the consistent and more comprehensive use of BBFC age labeling 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 like iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My 5 and UKTV Player.

The research also shows that 90% of parents believe that it is important to display age ratings when downloading or streaming a film online, and 92% 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.

94% of parents indicated that it’s important to have consistent ratings across all video on demand platforms, rather than a variety of bespoke ratings systems. In response the VSC is encouraging services to join the likes of Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo and Google in providing consumers with the nationally recognized PEGI ratings on games – bringing consistency between the offline and online worlds.

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 ambition is for the UK to be the safest place to be online,” said Digital Minister Margot James, “which means having age ratings parents know and trust applied to all online films and video games.”

Recommended BBFC/VSC Best Practice Guidelines around voluntary age labelling:

  • A consistent set of BBFC age labelling should be used across all VOD services and a consistent set of PEGI labelling should be used across all online games services
  • Services should work towards full coverage of BBFC age ratings across VOD content, and PEGI ratings for video games
  • Ratings should always be represented by the formal BBFC/PEGI classification symbols
  • Age labels must be easily understandable for the public and reflect the expectations of UK audiences
  • Additional ratings info (for example, ‘drug misuse, discrimination’) should be used alongside the age rating wherever available
  • Age ratings should always be displayed and easy to find before the call to action (the prompt to transact, download, stream, play or view)
  • Although all titles should carry a best practice age rating, any that don’t should be clearly labelled ‘Not Rated’, with a policy of restricting such content to over 18s (unless the content is clearly children’s programming)
  • Services should have arrangements in place to ensure that content has UK age labelling before it is made available to the public
  • Details on the age labelling and policies used by services should be made accessible across all platforms on which each service operates
  • Parental controls should be mapped to BBFC age ratings across VOD content, and PEGI ratings for video games. Users should be able to easily search for age appropriate VOD content and video games

I would love to hear your thoughts on this new development in age labeling of online services for videos and games. You can leave a comment below or join the Phantascene discord server to discuss this and other topics.

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