Many countries have measures in place to protect children from harmful content. Although these vary from service to service, with a little effort, they could present useful tools for parents looking to create a safer environment for their children. In this post Lubos Kuklis summarises the aims and findings of the new ERGA report, Protection of minors in the audiovisual media services: Trends & practices. Lubos is Executive Director at the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission in Slovakia. [Header image credit:P. Schultz, CC BY 2.0]

The ERGA report looked at the most widely used measures currently employed by media companies to protect minors, the approach of the biggest market players, and what appear to be trends for the future.

To understand how measures to protect minors actually work, it is crucial to communicate directly with media companies, and it is also important to adopt the user’s point of view, considering their experience when using such protection tools. To get the full picture, however, the wider regulatory context in which media companies operate must be understood, because:

  • The regulatory systems for protecting minors strongly influence the measures employed by media companies
  • The regulatory systems also vary significantly among EU member states.

The ERGA report also showed that, while the influence of national legislation is important, it is not the only decisive factor in what child protection measures are used by media companies.

Child protection measures within an audiovisual content delivery value chain

 

Main findings

  • Many media companies are motivated to take action to protect minors as much (if not more) by a desire to meet customers’ expectations than they are by the need to comply with binding legislation.

Large, established media companies tend to rely on their own capacities when it comes to choosing measures for protecting minors. They are confident that they can best assess the needs of their audience, including protecting children. Established broadcasters have been using their own protection systems for a long time now, and these methods tend to be more elaborate than those used in new VOD (video on demand) services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

As these VOD services are available in many EU countries, there is a strong international aspect to the question of the protecting minors – which brings us to the next two findings.

  • As the protection of minors is dealt with differently in every EU member state, standalone VOD services tend to localise age-rating labels.

Although media companies would like to see a common labelling system for the whole EU, at least for major markets, they are able to localise their content even when it comes to protecting minors. Netflix, for example, uses local labelling in 15 European states, while the remaining states use their own generic system.

Netflix’s “Rest of the World“ age-ratings

To overcome the fragmentation of protection codes in the EU member states, the industry is creating some common standards. Various initiatives aimed at protecting children promote tools that are becoming standard features within media services. In audiovisual media, this is especially true for parental controls, such as PIN codes.

  • Almost all of the VOD platforms examined have a PIN system in place. Whether required by legislation or not, a PIN system seems to be a standard feature.

Whether it is VOD services provided by broadcasters or standalone ones like Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, nearly all offer the possibility for parents to lock unsuitable content. Netflix also provides an option of creating a different profile with different PIN protection settings. In Amazon Prime Video a user can choose to which devices, connected to the service, a PIN protection will apply. Several services offer special children profiles (Netflix, Google Play, iTunes, Videoland), players (NRK) or apps (Sky, Netflix) that provide an even more secure environment for children when using digital devices, although these profiles are often not available in every country where that media service is offered.

What’s next?

Technical progress in audiovisual media is so rapid that regulation in the field of protecting minors is particularly challenging. Technical progress does, however, also provide new tools and capabilities to better protect minors. Through cooperation between media companies and regulators, these tools may be put to the most efficient use:

  • To protect children from the most immediate threats
  • To provide parents with the means of raising their children safely in the digital era and according to their individual values
  • To not burden the media companies unnecessarily.

While there are many useful schemes for protecting minors in media services across Europe, there is still room for improvement. As practices vary widely, there is a strong potential for cooperation among all stakeholders in identifying those that benefit children and parents the most, and those that are rather less helpful.

On 4 October 2017 a workshop titled ‘Protecting Children in Audiovisual Media Services – Current and Future Measures’ took place in Brussels, where participants (including industry, academia, parental organisations and regulators) discussed the effectiveness of current tools, in particular:

  • To what extent such tools are actually used by parents
  • How helpful they find them
  • Whether parents would benefit from a more harmonised approach to protecting minors
  • How current measures in audiovisual media connect to the broader question of protecting children in today’s digital environment

This post gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.