Culture Matters:

Ontario Changes its Film Ratings System

by Angad Mudhar | Nov 20, 2020

In a move to modernize the age-rating system for movies in Ontario, Canada, the provincial government recently proposed the ‘Film Content Information Act 2020’ as part of the Budget Bill that does away with General, Parental Guidance, 14 Accompaniment, 18 Accompaniment and Restricted age ratings. The new act would replace the Film Classification Act, 2005.

In recent years, the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB) – a film classification body run by the Ontario Film Authority, a nonprofit organization, appears to have fallen behind in assigning the mandatory age-ratings to movies released in the province. This created a problem since films could only be screened by distributors and theatres once they had been assigned an official rating issued by the province. The absence of a rating affected new releases.

There are cases where popular movies like “Roma” were not rated in time for its release. The acronym STC or Subject to Classification started appearing more frequently. Besides the delays, there is also the issue of inconsistent ratings. Films are sometimes assigned higher ratings and, upon further review, re-rated. The OFRB website’s rating database is also outdated.

To bring more efficiency and adapt to the rapidly shifting landscape toward digital platforms and streaming services, the provincial government dissolved the Ontario Film Authority on September 27, 2019 and took control of classifying movies in the province. The government assumed this role until it held consultations with the public and industry in the fall of 2019. The objective was to modernize film classification in Ontario while at the same time continuing to maintain consumer protection. In addition to reducing regulatory requirements, this move will also help the film industry save up to $1.5 million per year on film rating and licensing costs.

The outcome of this consultation with all stakeholders is the proposed new ‘Film Content Information Act, 2020’ that is formulated to replace what the government considers outdated requirements with information that assists the general public in making informed viewing decisions. The Act, if passed into law, would completely abolish the need for film exhibitors, retailers, and distributors to meet the film classification and licensing requirements. However, adult movies with explicit sexual content and video games will continue to be regulated as per the existing rules and regulations.

In contrast to traditional age-ratings, exhibitors are required to provide comprehensive descriptors about the film which could include violence, nudity, profanity, drug use, sexual scenes and more. A suggested age-rating could also be provided but this would only serve as a recommendation and not a rule. To receive feedback about the exhibitor provided ratings and to ensure audience complaints are attended to, contact details will be provided.

It remains to be seen if this proposed new act will provide more content information than traditional age-ratings and influence viewing choices of the audiences. However, in the rapidly changing environment of proliferating media content from both traditional and OTT players, self-regulation appears to be one of the most efficient methods to keep up with content.