11/07/2013 18:29 BST | Updated 10/09/2013 06:12 BST

The BBFC at 100: A New Cutting Edge

We launched our Annual Report on Thursday 11 July, as we regularly do at this time of year. The report looks back at the activities of the previous year, including key strands of work as well as individual film classification decisions at each of the BBFC classification categories. The 2012 report feels rather special as it reflects upon our centenary year, which we marked with numerous events across the UK, as well as in every cinema, where we showed a new 'retro' BBFC black card design before each film screened, with the design changing every two months. However, this historic year was actually dominated by modern and chiefly digital challenges and growth for the BBFC.

Our online services saw tremendous growth in 2012 with the number of online only classifications being submitted to our Watch & Rate service rising by 40%. The number of companies using our Watch & Rate service more than doubled, with 11 new platforms licensed to use BBFC ratings online, including Netflix, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Sainsbury's, BA and Virgin Atlantic.

What does this mean in practise? It means that BBFC ratings became more prominent, and more desired by the public, online. Take for example Netflix, they submitted every episode in their new House of Cards series to be age rated for digital distribution. The marketing campaign and media attention on the series was intense and by submitting the series to the BBFC Watch & Rate service, Netflix could be sure that their consumers were equipped with the information they would need to decide if a particular episode, or the entire series, was suitable for them and their family. Netflix could also be confident that the content had been subjected to the same legal tests and standards of public acceptability as any DVD or theatrical work on release in the UK. When you consider that on-demand streaming by passes any TV watershed or age restrictions enforced in the cinema, it is even more important for parents in particular to be able to make informed decisions about what is on-demand content is available to stream through the services their family subscribes to.

Recently we have seen a real focus on the suitability of online content and numerous debates about how we might improve child protection online. The debate is complex, but we are pleased that by working with as many platforms and content producers as possible, we can adapt our in-depth knowledge of expert research and public opinion, something that has grown significantly since the first Guidelines consultation in 2000, to film content available online.

But what about content that isn't a professional film or TV series? We're seeing more user generated content coming to the forefront of entertainment as people all over the world create their own entertainment as well as their own viewing schedules. It would be impossible for all user generated videos to be submitted to the same rigorous classification procedure as theatrical or DVD or Blu-Ray releases, but that doesn't mean some sort of guide is impossible.

To help in this area and improve child protection and consumer empowerment online we've been working with the Dutch media regulator NICAM to develop a prototype tool for age rating non-professional, user generated content which would otherwise not be classified

The tool consists of a single, easy to use questionnaire which is designed to be used primarily by people viewing the content, though the uploader too may also rate his or her own content. The ratings are derived from the BBFC's published Classification Guidelines and NICAM's Guidelines. The tool is designed to give a different rating for the UK, the Netherlands and any other country it might be used in, so that it reflects different national sensibilities and societal concerns. In the UK we've condensed our six age ratings (U, PG, 12/12A, 15, 18 and R18) into three categories and a traffic light system, G (General viewing), donated by a green symbol; T (suitable for teenagers), an amber symbol; and AO (Adults only), a red symbol.

At present the tool exists in prototype form and is being trialled by Mediaset in Italy. In partnership with NICAM we're looking for one or more video hosting channels to act as further partners to pilot a project to make the tool operational. We're also talking to other regulatory and partner bodies with a view to making the tool available in more countries.

So as we reach 100 the role of the BBFC is clearly entering a new era, where it is adapting to the requirements of consumers who now perform so many daily activities online, and who have a certain level of expectation that these online choices will be as well informed as those they make in the physical world, and rightly so.