PTC Research Finds Nearly Half of Netflix Teen Programming Given Adult Rating; Profanity Proliferates

LOS ANGELES (April 23, 2020) – New Parents Television Council research of Netflix reveals that nearly half of all programming designated as “Teen” by Netflix was rated either TV-MA (104 titles, or 40.8%) or R (23 titles, or 9.0%); and every single program that carried a TV-14 moniker included the harshest profanity. 

In the PTC’s new report, “Teen-Targeted Broadcast TV Can Be Vulgar…But Stranger Things Are Happening On Netflix,” out of 11 program titles rated TV-14 by Netflix and for which VidAngel filtering data was available, every single program contained multiple uses of the “s-word” and almost every Netflix original program rated as appropriate for teens (TV-14) had at least one use of the “f-word.”

“Our findings clearly demonstrate that Netflix is marketing explicit content to children. This is deeply troubling news for families given that Netflix use has surged with quarantine. Explicit profanity like the ‘f-word’ and ‘s-word’ are nearly ubiquitous on Netflix’s Teen programming, revealing an apparent disconnect between what Netflix deems appropriate for teen viewers and what the average parent might consider appropriate,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

“Just last week Netflix announced that it has improved parental controls – something we advocated for – but these improvements do not protect children from harmful adult content if Netflix is circumventing the system by giving teen programming adult ratings and including the harshest profanity in even TV-14 rated programming.

“Either the content is being rated inaccurately, or there has been considerable ‘ratings creep’ with the criteria used to determine an age-based rating. Neither option allows parents to do their job effectively. And even more importantly, this reveals huge problems with the ratings systems since parents are told to rely on the content ratings to protect their children from harmful content.

“We believe this research must bring about wholesale reform to the entertainment industry-controlled ratings systems and their oversight. It is abhorrent that a TV-14 rating doesn’t mean the same thing on Netflix as it does on CBS, for example. The ratings systems must serve parents, not those who might directly profit from exposing children to explicit, adult-themed content. Additionally, it is past time for Netflix to stop marketing adult content to children and teens and urgently call upon the company to overhaul this aspect of its platform,” Winter concluded.

Methodology

For this study, the PTC looked at the age-based rating for all Netflix programming listed in a “Teen” category or with a “Teen” designation as of April 6, 2020. Out of more than 3,600 category designations used by Netflix, 23 were identified as “teen” programming.

Although there is significant overlap within these 23 categories (i.e. titles that appear in more than one category), we identified 255 distinct programs or titles across all teen categories; and of those 255 distinct programs, 96 were labeled as “Netflix Originals.”

PTC further analyzed the program content – and specifically, the profanity within those programs – by overlaying content filtering data from the streaming video company VidAngel on all Netflix Originals for which filters were available. VidAngel content filters identify in specific detail every kind of explicit content that may be found in these programs.

Major Findings

  • By far, the most frequent age-based rating for what Netflix calls “Teen” programming was TV-MA (Mature Audiences); which means that, by definition, the programming is unsuitable for the audience for whom it is intended. Out of 255 “Teen” movies and TV series on Netflix, 104 (40.8%) were rated TV-MA. And of those “Teen” programs that were identified as Netflix Originals, 53 (55.2%) were rated TV-MA.
  • Among “Teen” titles that followed the MPA movie ratings system (as opposed to the TV ratings system), the R-rating appeared as frequently as PG-13, with 23 titles (9.0%) for each rating.
  • Only 39 titles (15.3%) in the “Teen” category had a rating of PG or younger; and 89 titles (34.9%) were specifically rated as appropriate for a teen audience (PG-13 or TV-14).
  • Out of 11 program titles rated TV-14 by Netflix and for which VidAngel filtering data was available, every single program contained multiple uses of the word “sh*t” (44 uses in one 98 minute-long movie, Rim of the World); the popular Netflix series Stranger Things used the “s-word” 257 times across three seasons – that’s an average of 10 uses per episode.
  • Almost every Netflix original program rated as appropriate for teens (TV-14) had at least one use of the word “f*ck” (the only exceptions being To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and its sequel, P.S. I Still Love You). Stranger Things did not introduce the “f-word” until part-way through its second season, but then used it six times in season 2, and 5 times in season 3. The teen movie, Rim of the World used the “f-word” five times in 98 minutes. For comparison, under the MPA ratings system, more than one use of the “f-word” is enough for them to change the age restriction from “PG-13” to “R.”

The full study can be found here

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