YouTube Fails To Convince Ad Regulator The Web Safeguards Kids Like TV Does

Two contrary advertising watchdog rulings against the same movie company highlight how video advertising to children is handled differently on TV and the web.

Separate complaints were filed to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against movie studio Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) for advertising around two of its latest releases.

In the first, four complainants said images of mutilation, blood and decapitation shown in a TV trail for Conan The Barbarian was offensive and inappropriate for viewing because of extreme violence.

But the ASA accepted ad placement firm Clearcast’s defence that the ad was shown only after 11pm, on UK channel Dave, and so “it was unlikely to promote violence or cause widespread offence to viewers at that time”. So the complaint was not upheld.

In the second case, a YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) in-video ad for Lionsgate’s 12A-rated movie Abduction – featuring shooting, car chases, punching, kissing an action – attracted a complaint from a parent whose two-year-old had seen watched it. The parent complained it was irresponsible to address the ad to children.

Lionsgate told the ASA it expected all YouTube viewers to be aged 13 or over, as stated by YouTube’s terms of service.

YouTube defended by drawing the ASA’s attention to its family-friendly advice and by offering its usual argument that it is “merely a platform and not responsible for the content of videos or ads that might appear”.

But the ASA upheld the complaint against Lionsgate by agreeing that some scenes were inappropriate for children and that YouTube account registration, at which time users supply their age, is not required to use the site.

“It was not possible to prevent under-13-year-olds from viewing material,” the ASA judged.

The cases centre on an interesting challenge to regulators, and a nightmare for parents in the internet age – how do they control what their children can see when the internet, unlike UK television, has no watershed?

In the first case, the post-11pm scheduling for the Conan ad was enough to get Lionsgate off a negative ASA ruling. But services like YouTube do not operate temporal age windows.

Regardless, ASA case research went on to skewer YouTube with its self-contradiction of its own terms of service…

“Information YouTube provided indicated to potential advertisers that, based on US figures from 2010, they understood seven per cent of unique visitors to be aged two to eleven, and a further nine per cent to be aged 12 to 17, with those audiences described as having 39% and 61% “Reach of Online Universe” respectively,” the ASA says.

“We acknowledged that data was relevant to a different market but considered it nevertheless indicated that children were likely to view footage, and therefore ads, on YouTube.

“We noted YouTube offered advertisers the option of ‘age-gating’ their marketing material, whereby the ad was targeted via the date of birth registration held for users; (but) only users who were logged in and met the relevant age criteria would see such an ad.”

“The … clip during which the ad appeared was likely to appeal to children and … was served in such a way that it could be viewed by all YouTube users, even if they had not logged in. Because it included scenes that were unsuitable for younger children and it could be viewed by all YouTube users, we considered the ad was inappropriately targeted.”

The ASA therefore found that the ad breached two rules in its advertising code and must not be run again (the movie promoted by the ad was from September 2011). It has also reminded Lionsgate to target its ads appropriately. YouTube was not complained about.

But the ASA stopped short of opening a wider discussion – the ongoing quest for an online equivalent to the TV watershed.