Published: 13th May 2021

New BBFC report shows parents want consistent age ratings online to protect children

  • More than eight in ten parents (82%) want services accessible in the UK to display age ratings that reflect the UK nations’ sensitivities and values, and nine in ten (90%) think that streaming services should display the same age ratings as cinema and DVD

  • Parents are concerned (54%) and angry (21%) at the prospect of streaming services using non-UK ratings

  • Parents are confused by generic labels such as ‘guidance’ or ‘caution’ on subscription streaming services, and unable to identify which ages content labelled with these ratings is suitable for

  • BBFC calling on streaming services to carry UK age ratings, and are ready and willing to work with platforms

Today, a new report by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has shown that parents expect British age ratings to be displayed on streaming services accessible by UK families. Many are concerned and angry at the prospect of platforms displaying generic global or European ratings which do not reflect their expectations of how issues including sex, drug misuse, eating disorders, sexual violence and injury detail should be classified.

The research, conducted by YouGov, shows that more than eight in ten parents (82%) want BBFC age ratings that reflect UK sensitivities to be displayed on streaming services. The survey asked about subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Disney+, and excluded TV on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer, All4 or ITV Hub.

Parents were shown five short clips from films, and were asked ‘blind’ whether they agreed with two alternative age ratings (one assigned by the BBFC and the other by a European regulator)  without being told which regulator had assigned the rating. In every case, the overwhelming majority (between 74% and 94%) of British parents agreed with the BBFC rating - and were able to identify the reasons why the BBFC has classified the content more restrictively than the alternative lower European rating, including depictions of eating disorders, sexual violence and drug misuse.

Parents reacted unfavourably at the prospect of platforms applying ratings that do not reflect UK classification standards and therefore potentially allowed children to access age inappropriate content. A majority said they felt concerned (54%), while others felt angry (21%), nervous (16%) and confused (15%).

Parents also want greater consistency online and offline, with nine in ten (90%) saying that they want to see the same age ratings on streaming services that they see in the cinema and on DVD and Blu-ray packaging. 

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “It’s very clear from this research that parents in the UK want BBFC age ratings on streaming services to reflect standards that they know and trust. The UK public without prior knowledge instinctively agreed with the BBFC ratings in our research rather than those of another European regulator - be that because of concerns about sexual violence, content around anorexia or drug misuse. This result is predictable and understandable and reflects the fact BBFC ratings are based on UK public attitudes to harm and offence which inevitably differ to those in other countries. People trust and understand our ratings, which is important for child protection - and for parents’ peace of mind.  But as cinema, DVD and streaming services increasingly converge it is important that the standards on which ratings are based are applied as consistently and comprehensively online as they are offline.”

Julie Bentley, CEO of Samaritans, said: “With the wide range of media platforms and services available today, it is more important than ever that we have a robust system of verifying that children are not exposed to unsuitable and unsafe content. Samaritans has worked closely with media and the regulators for many years to offer advice and support and the BBFC age-rating system, including signposting sources of support, is an important way of protecting audiences. The Government has recommended that all streaming services operating within the UK should adopt the BBFC system and Samaritans would like to see this happen as soon as possible.”

Marjun Ziarati at Parent Zone said: “We know that parents can feel overwhelmed at not only the amount of streaming services available, but also the variety of different age labelling systems currently in use. Many parents recognise and trust BBFC age ratings, so families can make better informed choices about what their children are watching.”

The research also demonstrated that parents find generic age labels such as ‘caution’ or ‘guidance’ confusing and unhelpful when used on subscription streaming services. There was no consensus on what age content labelled ‘guidance’ was suitable for, with 12% saying over 12s, 13% saying over 15s, 4% saying adults only, and one in ten saying they didn’t know. When it came to ‘caution’, 20% thought this meant the content was suitable for over 12s, 28% for over 15s, 13% for adults only, and 11% said they didn’t know. 

There is a growing body of evidence that parents want to see BBFC age ratings online, with previous BBFC research showing that 83% of parents trust BBFC ratings, and 97% of people saying they benefit from age ratings being in place. Nearly nine in ten (88%) parents find BBFC ratings on Netflix useful.

David Austin added: “Parents have told us time and time again that generic age labels on subscription streaming services - like ‘caution’ and ‘guidance’ - are just not good enough, and that online ratings must align with the ratings they know and trust in cinemas and on DVD. We are calling on streaming platforms to give their UK customers what they want - BBFC age ratings on all content available. We are ready and willing to work with them.” 

Read the full report.