June 29, 2021

Reasons Why to Classify

Do you remember a time when it was normal to go to your local DVD store and look for a movie based on the audience that was going to watch it. You could count on the fact that the box would set out clearly what the appropriate audience would be. If you were of a certain age you could expect the person behind the counter to make suggestions if the movie wasn’t age appropriate. With the disappearance of DVD stores this has all vanished. The industry is shortly getting a shake up with the introduction of new legislation ‘Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Commercial Video on-Demand) Amendment Regulations’ that will mean all on-demand content will need to be classified.  

The trend towards digital is definitely overtaking traditional media as reported by NZ On Air, in their recent findings on audience behaviour. With more of us consuming content online, a classification framework similar to the one used for DVD / video product, needs to be in place to safeguard New Zealand’s online users.  

Aside from parental controls, more measures are needed on streaming platforms and on-demand content to protect audiences from accessing ‘high impact’ and provocative content.  

In a recent case study by UK film governing body, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), outlined classification issues surrounding the highly publicised American series, ‘13 Reasons Why’ addressing the varying classification required for certain episodes. The BBFC recommended a classification of '15' for most of the individual episodes, noting that they include strong issues, such as discussion of sexual violence, drug misuse,and suicide and sex references, which are unsuitable for younger teens. BBFC classified three stronger episodes, which included strong scenes of sexual violence, with a rating of '18'.

What will change for the consumer?  

Whilst mainstream video on-demand and streaming platforms available in NZ are unlikely to have anything too contentious, it is good to see NZ moving with the times and recognising the need to provide NZ viewers with better information. What is likely to be confusing though for viewers, is the risk that similar (if not the same) content could have different ratings depending on how the viewer chooses to view it.

What will change for the supplier?

Commercial video on-demand (CVOD) and streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney and Neon will be required to display New Zealand age ratings and content warnings on all films,shows and other content.  And they will do this in a hurry if they are to meet the government deadlines.  

This latest change does feel a little piecemeal though – as perhaps recognised by the Minister when she said “The regime is not fit for purpose”.  Minister Tinetti recognises that there is plenty of work to do.  

There needs to be a greater co-ordination and consistency whether you choose to watch content online, free to air or at the movies. Whether the content is served up by your chosen news source, social media platform or VOD platform.  

We suggest that NZ would also benefit from having one place where concerns can be raised.  

It will not be a straight-forward job particularly to do this and be technology agnostic so that it can accommodate future content platforms. But it would certainly make things easier for all concerned including those that are providing the content.  

But whatever we end up doing, we need to ensure that what we look to put in place is not so different from the countries where the content is created.  If it becomes too hard to comply with our regime then content providers may choose to not make content available.  This won’t mean that the content does not end up in New Zealander’s hands, as we saw with the innovative way that everyone was watching Netflix before it arrived in NZ, just that it is not regulated the way we would choose.

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Social media image credit: Plyz Works

NZ SVOD users


Until now commercial video on-demand and streaming platforms have fallen into a gap in New Zealand’s classification system

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