Online music videos get official age ratings in UK, the US could be next

If you want to watch the new Dizzee Rascal video online in the U.K., you’d better be older than 18.  Raunchy and violent online music videos are getting age-ratings there, and Rascal’s “Couple of Stack” got slapped with the equivalent of an R rating.

The new ratings system is a government-led initiative to prevent children’s exposure to inappropriate content. Among those on board include YouTube, Vevo, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), British record label trade body BPI and labels Sony, Universal and Warner Music. The program could be coming to the U.S. next.

All music videos in the U.K. must now be submitted to the BBFC — essentially the British equivalent of the Motion Picture Association of America — before they can be published online. They will then be vetted, assigned age-appropriate ratings before being submitted to YouTube and Vevo.

“Movies in the cinema and music DVDs are age-rated to inform the viewer and help parents to make informed choices. We welcome this voluntary step from industry to bring internet services in line with the offline world,” said Baroness Joanna Shields, Minister for Internet Safety and Security. 

“We will continue to work with industry to develop ways to help parents to better protect children online from inappropriate music videos with explicit adult or violent content.”

A pilot version of the program ran last Fall, but Tuesday saw its official rollout. Several hundred independent record labels, such as Beggars Banquet, announced they will participate in a six-month trial starting this week.

The initiative is the result of a major BBFC study that found parents overwhelmingly wanted the same age ratings applied to online music videos that come with films and DVDs.

Of the 132 videos submitted during the pilot 56 were rated 12 (meaning suitable for viewers 12 and older), 53 were classified as 15, with just one getting that 18 certificate: Rascal’s gruesome “Couple of Stack” due to its “strong bloody violence,” “gore” and “very strong language.”

The big caveat of course is that other explicit videos such as Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which would surely get flagged for an “18” rating, escape the age rating because the current initiative only includes music videos produced in the U.K. For now.

The BBFC’s associate director David Austin told Digiday there is interest across the pond, and he is already speaking with the MPAA about the potential to apply it Stateside – which would mean videos by Rhianna, Miley Cyrus (remember “Wrecking Ball?”) and others would all have to be vetted.

“We are looking at ways to share the learnings from the pilots with other countries, including the U.S. and we want to include more platforms and labels in the process too. There has been interest from the U.S in the pilot,” he added.

BBFC already works with iTunes and Netflix and mobile operators on applying parental controls on content. It’s also looking into how parental controls might be applied to user-generated content, and has instigated a pilot in Italy to test that. Austin said platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are all aware of the trial, and that if it proves a success the BBFC will actively engage with such platforms over extending it to the U.K.

Next steps will involve taking stock of the consumer feedback they receive on the progress made to date, and applying that to the ratings framework, in what will be a “continuously evolving” process, according to Austin.

“The terms of the debate around online regulation have changed from a few years ago when people said it couldn’t be done,” said Austin. “It is coming together which shows it can be done without legislation.”


Image courtesy Christian Bertrand /

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