Written evidence submitted by BBFC




BBFC response to DCMS Committee:

Pre-legislative Scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill





The BBFC supports the introduction of a new Media Bill, particularly the provisions related to ensuring that UK audiences, especially children, are better and more consistently protected from harmful material on video-on-demand (VoD) services. We welcome this opportunity to submit written evidence to the DCMS Committee.



About the BBFC


The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is the not-for-profit independent statutory regulator of film and video in the UK. We also work with the UK’s mobile network operators – on a voluntary, best-practice basis – to set the standards by which hundreds of millions of websites are automatically filtered to protect children from unsuitable content on 3G, 4G and 5G networks.


The BBFC’s primary aim is to protect children and other vulnerable groups from harm through classification decisions which are legally enforceable and to empower consumers, particularly parents and children, through the provision of content advice and education, to choose content well, wherever and however they view it.



The BBFC and VoD services


Since 2008, in response to changing viewing habits, the BBFC has worked with the home entertainment industry on a voluntary basis to extend the use of our trusted age-labelling system for cinema and packaged media to VoD services.


Currently, 33 consumer-facing VoD brands voluntarily use BBFC age ratings and content advice in the UK to give their customers the information they need to make safe and informed viewing decisions for themselves and their families. We will continue to strengthen these partnerships and forge new ones to deliver the consistency across services that the UK public expects. 90% parents/caregivers and 80% of teenagers aged 16-19 consider age ratings and content advice to be of equal importance on VoD as they are for films in the cinema.[1]


Our current partners include Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, Netflix, Rakuten TV, Sky Store and Virgin Media Store, all of whom work with us to help to ensure that their content is appropriately rated in line with UK standards. Our innovative self-rating partnership with Netflix has enabled 100% of content on Netflix’s UK platform to carry our ratings and content advice and are working to replicate this success with our other VoD partners.


The VoD services that work with us do so because they recognise the value of carrying BBFC ratings and content advice on their services, to deliver consistent content labelling to UK consumers across offline and online film and video content. They also recognise our experience and expertise when it comes to UK law, and trust us to help ensure they do not carry illegal or harmful content, such as indecent images of children or the dangerous depiction of imitable suicide techniques, which non-UK rating systems would not be sensitive to.


We are very pleased that the Government has stated that the BBFC represents “best practice for content exhibited to UK audiences on account of being widely recognised by the public, underpinned by a transparent set of standards, and informed by regular consultation with the UK public”.



How the BBFC meets the Government's three best-practice criteria for UK audiences


It is very helpful that the Government has identified these three best-practice criteria, as we believe this sets a standard against which any alternative age rating arrangements implemented by VoD services can be assessed. The BBFC meets these three tests in the following ways.


(1)   Widely recognised by the public – The BBFC’s age classifications – U, PG, 12(A), 15 and 18 – are familiar to almost everyone in the UK, including young people, who know our ratings from cinema, DVD/Blu-ray and, increasingly, VoD. 98% of teenagers recognise the PG symbol, 97% recognise the 15 and 18 symbols, 93% recognise the 12A symbol and 92% recognise the U symbol.[2]


(2)   Underpinned by a transparent set of standards – We classify content in line with our published Classification Guidelines, which are available on our website. They set out our approach to the classification of issues such as bad language, dangerous behaviour (including suicide and self-harm), discrimination, drugs, horror, nudity, sex, violence and sexual violence. This ensures that the UK public is assured of objective decision-making and consistency of approach.


(3)   Informed by regular consultation with the UK public – UK law requires the BBFC to set classification standards based on public opinion research. Our guidelines help us to achieve this: they are the result of wide-scale consultations with over 10,000 people from across the UK, extensive research and outreach with experts, and more than 100 years of experience. We update the guidelines every four to five years to ensure that our standards continue to reflect the expectations and values of people across all four nations of the UK. As a result we enjoy very high levels of public trust: 83% of UK parents trust BBFC age ratings all or most of the time.[3]



BBFC response to Media Bill – ‘audience protection reviews’


The BBFC welcomes the proposal in the draft Bill to give Ofcom “an enhanced ongoing duty to assess all on-demand providers’ audience protection measures to ensure that the systems put in place are effective and fit for purpose”. In our view, the best way to ensure that VoD services’ systems are “fit for purpose” would be to formally assess any age rating system against the Government’s three best-practice criteria.


Our primary concern about age rating arrangements that do not meet these three tests is that they may not reflect the standards which UK audiences expect. Unfamiliar systems that do not align with the expectations of audiences undermine the value of age ratings as a child protection measure, and risk children being exposed to inappropriate or harmful content. If a myriad of age rating systems are used online, all with different standards, then parents will naturally lose trust in using such systems to guide age-appropriate viewing for their children. We have recorded instances of VoD services issuing ratings that are significantly out of step with established UK standards, and often hear from members of the public who are confused about why certain titles have been rated differently on a VoD service than they have been by the BBFC.


The effectiveness of age ratings depends on trust. This is why platforms subject to Ofcom’s regulation should have an obligation to ensure that their age rating arrangements reflect UK best practice. Global ratings and ratings based on systems from outside the UK should not be accepted. This is because standards vary significantly between countries due to different cultural contexrs and national sensitivities, including in relation to issues about which UK audiences are particularly concerned such as sexual violence, drug misuse and discrimination. For example, in France, content the BBFC would classify 15 or 18 is frequently certified TP (Tous publics), meaning suitable for all.



Concluding remarks


The BBFC strongly recommends that the Bill enables the Government’s three best-practice criteria to be enshrined as the standard that regulated services’ age rating arrangements must meet. To do so would significantly improve the current situation as regards VoD age labelling in the UK, ending the present inconsistency and confusion. We have a positive relationship with Ofcom, and we look forward to supporting their regulation under the Bill.


We would be available to give further evidence and answer any questions raised by this submission.




May 2023




[1] BBFC research published 12 January 2023

[2] BBFC Classification Guidelines consultation 2018, p. 36.

[3] BBFC Classification Guidelines consultation 2018, pp. 5-6.