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What's in a rating?

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(RNN) - Content rating systems for the entertainment industry come in various forms, and the way they developed is just as interesting as how they work.

Television

Adoption of the TV Parental Guidelines came in several stages. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required V-chips to be placed in all televisions larger than 13 inches made after Jan. 1, 2000. The chips allow users to block programs based on their content.

On July 10, 1997, a group of entertainment, medical, educational and advocacy groups announced a consensus on ratings designed to inform the public on the content of programs.

The following March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vowed to support and enforce the ratings system.

The TV Parental Guidelines ratings range from material intended specifically for young children to that meant to be viewed by people 17 or older. There is also a list of sub-ratings and definitions meant to inform viewers more specifically of what is intended in each show.

Movies made for TV are also rated, as are ones adapted for the small screen. However, their ratings may vary depending on two factors: how they are edited or how they fit a particular network's individual standards, since cable and broadcast stations rate their own content.

Movies

The Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) is the central board that rates major motion pictures based on content. CARA is an arm of the Motion Picture Association of America, a membership of the six major U.S. movie studios - Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Since 2004, CARA has also reviewed movie trailers, home videos and all print and broadcast ads and promotional materials for movies - amounting to about 60,000 pieces of marketing each year.

Not all movies released in theaters are subject for ratings. It is a voluntary decision, but all members of the MPAA agree to have their movies rated.

Movie ratings range from G for all audiences to NC-17 for films intended explicitly for adults. The latter replaced the X rating in 1990, which had become associated with pornographic movies.

After Jack Valenti succeeded William Hays as president of the MPAA in 1966, a new rating system replaced the Hays Code, which drew criticism for what critics called censorship of movies.

Music

Unlike other media industries, there is no system that rates music based on content.

Many people are familiar with the black and white striped sticker on CDs that reads "Parental Advisory - Explicit Content."

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) provides a list of standards for using the logo, but it is solely the decision of the music producers and distributors to place it on a CD.

Often, record labels will release both an original and edited version of recordings that contain explicit material.

Record companies are not held to uniform content standards, "nor is the absence of a logo a statement that the [record] is completely devoid of all references to strong language or depictions of violence, sex, or substance abuse," according to the RIAA.

The idea of the explicit content logo developed when the National Parent Teacher Association and Parents Music Resource Center put pressure on the recording industry in 1985, leading to a series of Congressional hearings. In 1990, the RIAA adopted a set of guidelines that companies could use to determine use of the logo, which originally read "Explicit Lyrics" instead of "Explicit Content."

Video games

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a nonprofit, self-regulating body that rates the content of video games and apps. The board also reviews all advertising and additional materials packaged with games. The ESRB was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

The content ratings consist of categories and descriptors to accurately judge age-appropriateness and specific content.

Failure to comply could result in fines up to $1 million, recall of games and other penalties.

The rating system is voluntary, but console producers and several retailers require an ESRB rating before they will distribute or sell a game.

ESRB raters do not play the games they rate due to the high volume of new releases, some of which require several hours of gameplay. Instead, they rely on the disclosure of producers via a questionnaire, and they spot check the games after their release.

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