Published: 14th March 2019

BBFC and Netflix announce new age ratings partnership as parents demand greater consistency across video on demand and online games platforms

Today the BBFC has launched an innovative new industry collaboration with Netflix to move towards classifying all content on the service using BBFC age ratings.

Netflix will produce BBFC age ratings for content using a manual tagging system along with an automated rating algorithm, with the BBFC taking up an auditing role. Netflix and the BBFC will work together to make sure Netflix's classification process produces ratings which are consistent with the BBFC's Classification Guidelines for the UK.   

It comes as new research by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Video Standards Council Rating Board (VSC) has revealed that almost 80% of parents are concerned about children seeing inappropriate content on video on demand or online games platforms.

The BBFC and the VSC have joined forces to respond to calls from parents and are publishing a joint set of Best Practice Guidelines to help online services deliver what UK consumers want.

The Best Practice Guidelines will help online platforms work towards greater and more consistent use of trusted age ratings online. The move is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the Government's strategy to make the UK the safest place to be online.

This includes recommending the use of consistent and more comprehensive use of BBFC age labelling symbols across all Video On Demand (VOD) services, and PEGI symbols across online games services, including additional ratings info and mapping parental controls to BBFC age ratings and PEGI ratings.

The voluntary Guidelines are aimed at VOD services offering video content to UK consumers via subscription, purchase and rental, but exclude pure catch-up TV services like iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My 5 and UKTV Player.

The research also shows that 90% of parents believe that it is important to display age ratings when downloading or streaming a film online, and 92% of parents think it’s important for video on demand platforms to show the same type of age ratings they would expect at the cinema or on DVD and Blu-ray – confirmed by 94% of parents saying it's important to have consistent ratings across all video on demand platforms, rather than a variety of bespoke ratings systems.

With nine in 10 (94%) parents believing it is important to have consistent ratings across all online game platforms rather than a variety of bespoke systems, the VSC is encouraging services to join the likes of Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo and Google in providing consumers with the nationally recognised PEGI ratings on games - bringing consistency between the offline and online worlds.

The Video Recordings Act requires that the majority of video works and video games released on physical media must be classified by the BBFC or the VSC prior to release. While there is no equivalent legal requirement that online releases must be classified, the BBFC has been working with VOD services since 2008, and the VSC has been working with online games platforms since 2003. The Best Practice Guidelines aim to build on the good work that is already happening, and both authorities are now calling for the online industry to work with them in 2019 and beyond to better protect children.

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “Our research clearly shows a desire from the public to see the same trusted ratings they expect at the cinema, on DVD and on Blu-ray when they choose to watch material online. We know that it’s not just parents who want age ratings, teenagers want them too. We want to work with the industry to ensure that families are able to make the right decisions for them when watching content online.”

Ian Rice, Director General of the VSC, said: “We have always believed that consumers wanted a clear, consistent and readily recognisable rating system for online video games and this research has certainly confirmed that view.  While the vast majority of online game providers are compliant and apply PEGI ratings to their product, it is clear that more can be done to help consumers make an informed purchasing decision.  To this end, the best practice recommendations will certainly make a valuable contribution in achieving this aim."

Digital Minister Margot James said: "Our ambition is for the UK to be the safest place to be online, which means having age ratings parents know and trust applied to all online films and video games. I welcome the innovative collaboration announced today by Netflix and the BBFC, but more needs to be done.

"It is important that more of the industry takes this opportunity for voluntary action, and I encourage all video on demand and games platforms to adopt the new best practice standards set out by the BBFC and Video Standards Council."

The BBFC is looking at innovative ways to open up access to its classifications to ensure that more online video content goes live with a trusted age rating. Today the BBFC and Netflix announce a year-long self-ratings pilot which will see the online streaming service move towards in-house classification using BBFC age ratings, under licence.

Netflix will use an algorithm to apply BBFC Guideline standards to their own content, with the BBFC setting those standards and auditing ratings to ensure consistency. The goal is to work towards 100% coverage of BBFC age ratings across the platform.

Mike Hastings, Director of Editorial Creative at Netflix, said: "The BBFC is a trusted resource in the UK for providing classification information to parents and consumers and we are excited to expand our partnership with them. Our work with the BBFC allows us to ensure our members always press play on content that is right for them and their families."

David Austin added: “We are fully committed to helping families chose content that is right for them, and this partnership with Netflix will help us in our goal to do just that. By partnering with the biggest streaming service, we hope that others will follow Netflix's lead and provide comprehensive, trusted, well understood age ratings and ratings info, consistent with film and DVD, on their UK platforms. The partnership shows how the industry are working with us to find new and innovative ways to deliver 100% age ratings for families.”

Notes to editors

About the BBFC/Netflix pilot:

Netflix and the BBFC will work together to make sure Netflix's classification process produces ratings which are consistent with the BBFC's Classification Guidelines for the UK.   When this is achieved, Netflix will produce BBFC ratings in-house to be carried on their UK service. The development of this process will take place across a 9 to 12 month pilot.  

As part of the agreement Netflix will produce BBFC ratings info, use BBFC classification symbols in 2020, and work towards having BBFC ratings on all content on their UK service.

The BBFC will regularly check Netflix rated content to make sure that BBFC standards are being maintained.

Recommended BBFC/VSC Best Practice Guidelines around voluntary age labelling:

  • A consistent set of BBFC age labelling should be used across all VOD services and a consistent set of PEGI labelling should be used across all online games services
  • Services should work towards full coverage of BBFC age ratings across VOD content, and PEGI ratings for video games
  • Ratings should always be represented by the formal BBFC/PEGI classification symbols
  • Age labels must be easily understandable for the public and reflect the expectations of UK audiences
  • Additional ratings info (for example, 'drug misuse, discrimination') should be used alongside the age rating wherever available
  • Age ratings should always be displayed and easy to find before the call to action (the prompt to transact, download, stream, play or view)
  • Although all titles should carry a best practice age rating, any that don't should be clearly labelled 'Not Rated', with a policy of restricting such content to over 18s (unless the content is clearly children's programming)
  • Services should have arrangements in place to ensure that content has UK age labelling before it is made available to the public
  • Details on the age labelling and policies used by services should be made accessible across all platforms on which each service operates
  • Parental controls should be mapped to BBFC age ratings across VOD content, and PEGI ratings for video games. Users should be able to easily search for age appropriate VOD content and video games

About the BBFC
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent regulator and guide with over 100 years’ experience. We’re here to help everyone in the UK choose age-appropriate films, videos and websites, wherever and however they watch or use them.
Working closely with the film and digital industries, with educators and organisations dedicated to children’s welfare, we are continually evolving the guidance we offer, and are increasingly able to make a bigger difference in helping everyone – children, families and adults - choose well.

Since 2008, the BBFC has been helping the home entertainment industry encourage the use of our age ratings for video on demand (VoD) services in the UK. There’s no obligation for VoD services or distributors making content available online to obtain and display ratings. But many choose to use them and we support them in doing this to help ensure that families have the best possible advice when choosing what to watch.

About the VSC Rating Board
The Video Standards Council Rating Board was established in 1989 as a body set up to develop and oversee a Code of Practice designed to promote high standards within the video/DVD industry. The VSC Rating Board has established staff training guidelines for retailers and others responsible for supplying videos, DVD and video games to the public to ensure that age-restricted media is not made available to under-age purchasers.

In 2012, the VSC Rating Board was appointed as the statutory UK video games regulator using the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) system to rate video games accordingly.   Prior to this, from 2003, the VSC operated an advisory rating system for games that didn’t require statutory classification.

The Video Recordings Act requires all non-exempt video game content on physical media to be classified by the VSC, but at present there is no equivalent requirement for online games.  However, since 2003 the VSC has been rating online games using the PEGI system in an advisory capacity.

The games industry has responded positively to the application of age labelling on their online product through the following measures:

  • All of the major console suppliers including Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo mandate the use of PEGI ratings on their platforms.
  • More recently, through the IARC (international Age Rating Coalition) system, additional online storefronts such as Google Play and Oculus provide PEGI age labelling for consumers in the UK.

The IARC system was introduced in 2014 as a means of enabling consumers globally to access nationally recognised age rating information on games and other digital products released through online storefronts.  The IARC offers publishers a single portal to acquiring regionally recognised ratings worldwide.

Additional information

VOD Age Labelling Guidelines Data Pack

In September 2018, in response to a request from Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, the BBFC undertook research to ascertain the current state of age labelling and parental controls online on Video On Demand services that offer professional long form video content via Subscription, Transactional and Ad Funded models.

PDF | 1.42 MB

VOD Age Labelling Guidelines Executive Summary