Worldwide Content Classification – What Happens When You Get It Wrong

In our previous blog post, “Worldwide Content Classification – How Hard Can It Be?” we examined how the exponential growth of the OTT and VOD markets, along with the annual release of hundreds of thousands of new titles, places pressure on content regulators and platforms to obtain in-country age-ratings before release. In this post, we’ll explore what happens when content providers attempt to short-cut the process.

Content producers use strategies to navigate the ratings process. We’ve discussed avoiding them altogether, but another common approach is mapped ratings. Mapping a rating involves looking at the MPAA rating and guessing the equivalency age rating in another country. This is usually done without a clear understanding of the criteria used by regulatory agencies and results in real risk if done so.

• If the rating is too low, then the content provider can find itself in legal jeopardy.
• If the rating is too high, then the audience is artificially constrained.
• If the rating is Unrated/Not Rated, then the content is not discoverable on most platforms.

The MPAA PG-13 rated film “Hunger Games” is a good example of how this issue can manifest.

The table below demonstrates the broad difference in age ratings across several countries and indicates what ratings could result if content providers were to ignore cultural sensitivities and simply guess an age rating based upon the MPAA’s PG-13. The ratings in red indicate conceivable ratings based on an unfamiliarity of country ratings criteria or cultural sensitivities. These higher ratings would result in a smaller audience, and therefore, lower box office. Too low a rating, as in the case of rating the film a “12” in Brazil, could put the content provider in legal jeopardy for exposing young children to unacceptable content such as violence. The cells with black borders and in green are the actual country ratings for the film as assigned by the regulatory bodies.

To understand the market impact of getting it wrong, in Germany, for example, the difference in audience between an age “12” and an age “16” rating is 2.6 million potential viewers. Therefore, guessing a “16” rating for “Hunger Games” in Germany (where the average theater ticket price is $10) would have a $26M impact on box office sales in one country.

In some countries content providers can release content as Unrated or Not Rated. This is problematic because most platform algorithms exclude unrated content, which means those films will not be discoverable or appear on a platform’s list of recommendations. Unless a subscriber knows the title of the film or show, they will not be able to find it. If they cannot find it, they will not watch it.

Episodic television is more challenging because scripts change from episode to episode, and the rating may be higher or lower as a result. This risk is most often seen in dramas that include violence, sexual references, cultural, religious and/or moral content. The television series’ “Mizrapur”and “Tandav” are clear examples of this phenomenon.

Both shows have episodes that are acceptable under India’s standards. However, in one episode of “Tandav” members of the public complained the content “hurt religious sentiments.” “Tandav” is the subject of legal action following a complaint filed by member of India’s Parliament. As the following quote shows, review of that one episode was enough to foment a complaint to the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting.

“After watching the series, it was found that in the 17th minute of the first episode, characters playing Hindu gods and goddesses have been shown in an uncharitable way and using objectionable language, which can incite religious tension. Similarly, in the 22nd minute of the same episode, efforts have been made to ignite caste clashes with casteist remarks. The person holding a dignified post like that of Prime Minister has been shown in a very derogatory manner in the web series.” – Senior Sub-inspector Amar Nath Yadav

“Mizrapur” is now before India’s Supreme Court, following complaints that episodes depict the area’s residents as a “goon(s), vagabond(s) and adulterer(s) in front of the country,” and has “completely tarnished the historical and cultural image of the city/district.” One must question how an OTT platform can be expected to know the seriousness of these types of concerns when the in-country producer is not aware of them? “Mizrapur’s” producers have publicly said that any misrepresentation was unintentional, but that has not stopped legal action against the series.

Cultural sensitivity is another factor that can seriously impact content. Issues like drug addiction, rape, child abuse, and suicide are seen differently in many cultures and must be taken into consideration. Suicide, for example, is treated differently in film in the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Sweden, and Japan. How it is portrayed matters. Is it a primary component of the story? Is it depicted in the film, e.g., seriously or callously? Is it violent or not? Without a full understanding of these cultural factors, content providers can make mistakes in age-ratings and consumer advisories that directly impact markets and revenue.

Besides adverse impact to revenue, penalties for violating local laws and cultural norms can include take-down notices, monetary sanctions, legal sanctions, negative brand and business impact, and possibly imprisonment. Risk can be mitigated when content creators use the Spherex platform to culture fit their content for local audiences worldwide.

 

1 Tandav controversy: Here’s everything you should know, The Indian Express, Jan. 27, 2021

2 Supreme Court issues notice to Centre, Amazon Prime Video for ‘Mirzapur,’ Mint, Jan. 21, 2021

3 Ibid.

 

 

 

Worldwide Content Classification – How Hard Can It Be?

The explosion of direct streaming and OTT services worldwide on a wide range of platforms e.g., online, mobile, and Connected TV (CTV)means content creator’s products have global potential. That means films, TV shows, documentaries, and live events can reach new markets and generate additional revenue for everyone in the production chain. The only challenge is it isn’t a simple process. The good news is Spherex offers a solution to assist creators in reaching those markets quickly, properly, and cost-effectively.

The phrase, “how hard can it be?” is a common first thought, but when considering things like different cultures, languages, religious sensibilities, and intolerance to violence and sexuality, getting content released in a timely manner can get slowed to a crawl or stopped altogether simply due to a lack of cultural awareness and competence.

This begs the question of who in the content creation chain needs age ratings services and when do they need it? Because assigning appropriate age ratings occur post-production, it would be premature to discuss ratings with writers, directors, or producers at the creation phase of content. Their focus is on developing and telling the story. That leaves obtaining age ratings to those whose responsibility is deciding where films will be released, e.g., producers, post-production houses, and distributors.

The map identifies countries where age ratings are required for any content to be exhibited or streamed. Countries shown in dark blue are in the top 20 markets measured by total box office receipts for 2019. Those in light blue simply indicate smaller market countries, but still requiring age ratings. Countries in gray have no formal film maturity rating requirement.

By our count, 56 countries worldwide have some form of maturity ratings requirement. The vast majority of those (45) have a government-managed entity or office (often a sub-agency to a ministry, or separate cultural agency) to oversee their rating system. The rest are operated or managed by the film industry or a private service. In the United States, for example, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) established and manages an industry-based rating system that has been used not only in the U.S. but worldwide since 1968. It is administered by the Classification & Ratings Administration (CARA), an independent division of the MPA. Films released in the U.S. must obtain an MPAA rating to be shown in most theaters. Films can be unrated, but that limits exhibition in most of the country’s theaters and greatly reduces box office potential worldwide. However, those same films can be streamed on any OTT platform.

There is no agreed-upon global standard for rating video content. No country, region nor the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry has called for one to be developed. There are some countries that regulate film, but not television or streaming content. Hence, there are approximately 53 distinctly different sets of rules content creators and distributors must follow to obtain ratings for their work to be shown in other countries. This is in addition to any language, cultural, or religious sensitivities they must also navigate to obtain distribution approval before they can make money. That doesn’t mean countries can’t agree on how to rate content; there are examples of this happening. In Europe, for example, Germany’s independent Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft (FSK) standard has been adopted by Switzerland, and the Netherland’s “Institute for the Classification of Audiovisual Media” system has been adopted by Belgium and Turkey.

Not everyone gets it right. Mistakes in ratings can lead to public outcry, negative media attention, religious criticism and in some instances, the loss of a job or landing oneself in jail. Major studios have offices located worldwide to deal with ratings and have for decades, so it’s not as challenging for them because their teams live where the content is released and are familiar with any cultural problems that may arise.

It is important to note that some of the world’s largest markets frequently update/change their regulatory requirements. The European Union recently instituted local content requirements. Examples of scenes in a film being approved in one country and not the neighboring country are quite common. What is acceptable in Japan may not be admissible in China. Likewise, some content satisfactory to regulators in one region of India is not allowable in another.

The challenge facing content creators and distributors is their lack of the unique cultural knowledge required to navigate international regulations in their target markets. The sheer volume of catalog and future content (averaging 356,781 new titles each year for the past five years) presents a real dilemma for both regulators and content creators. Creators can’t release the content without a rating, and the regulator can’t assign a rating without a review. It’s the proverbial cat and mouse chase. With over a decade of working directly with the world’s most influential government regulators, Spherex can quickly identify risks and prevent problems from occurring before they happen, thus ensuring your content is released to market without worry or wait.