Appropriate for All Viewing Audiences? an Examination of Violent and Sexual Portrayals in Movie Previews Featured on Video Rentals

Article excerpt

The rapidly changing media landscape has contributed to the omnipresent nature of movies (Litman & Kohl, 1989). Consumers are now able to view motion pictures in a variety of venues, including in the theatre and on network television, videocassette, pay-per view, and digital videodisc, among others. This diversity of entertainment choices is apparently recognized by the motion picture industry, with producers now embarking upon innovative means of marketing movies, such as placement of promotional materials in non-traditional arenas such as shopping malls, ATMs, and the Internet (e.g., Liedtke, 2000; MPA Worldwide Market Research, 2000; Matzer, 1998). Given that viewers report that movie previews or trailers are one of the most important determinants of motion picture selection (Faber & O'Guinn, 1984), it is not surprising that in 1999 an average of approximately $1.6 million per film was spent on movie trailers alone (MPA Worldwide Market Research, 2000).

While the sheer volume of entertainment choices and the accompanying marketing tactics call for a greater exploration of the extent to which media promotion affects viewers' entertainment selections, additional concerns have recently been voiced about the nature of the promotion and promotional materials. Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) recent report (2000) concerning the marketing of violent entertainment suggests that not only is violent content a major marketing tool but also that the movie industry systematically targets such content at a young audience (children under 17). In support of this position, the FTC pointed to a variety of data, including marketing reports from motion picture studios, and access of age-restricted entertainment to underage shoppers, among others.

Of course, one implication of the FTC's (2000) report is that the motion picture industry may recognize or believe that some types of portrayals such as violence or sexuality are "successful" in increasing audience interest. As one movie marketer explained, "The objective of nearly every trailer is to get teenage boys' butts into seats ... And that means going for as much violence and sex as you can jam into 2 1/2 minutes" (Streisand, 1999, p. 56). Consequently, the purpose of the present study was to examine the prevalence and nature of violent and sexual portrayals in motion picture promotional materials by content analyzing movie previews featured on videocassettes. Although video cassettes are obviously only one venue for movie preview placement and may therefore differ somewhat from previews featured in other venues such as the Internet, movie theatres, or television, the use of video rentals offered the benefit of exploring previews that a large number of people have presumably seen. At the same time, it avoided much of the editing of length and content that is likely routinely employed for previews that are shown on television.

Violence and Sexuality in Media Promotion

Although the specific content of movie previews per se has yet to receive much research attention, other studies of related promotion do suggest that violent and sexual content may be commonly portrayed. For example, Soley and Reid (1985) reported that 19.9% of the TV Guide advertisements in their sample contained violence, and 20.8% contained sexuality (see also Williams, 1989). Similarly, Walker (2000) reported a series of content analyses that examined the prevalence of sexual and violent portrayals contained in television promos aired during primetime network television in 1994 and 1998 and during NFL games aired during the 1998-1999 season. Consistent with prior studies, Walker (2000) reported that approximately 20% of the promos contained at least one depiction of aggression or sexuality (see also Sapolsky, Tabarlet, & Kaye, 1996).

Given the prevalence of violent and sexual depictions in television promotional materials, it seems reasonable to expect that motion picture promotion would follow a similar, if not heightened, trend. …