From Silent Screen to Smart Phone: Classifying Content in the 21st Century

02/09/2013 00:21 BST | Updated 01/11/2013 09:12 GMT

Today the BBFC becomes the new regulator of mobile content, replacing the Independent Mobile Classification Body, which had regulated this content since 2004. From 2 September, the BBFC will provide the UK mobile network operators EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, with a new independent Classification Framework for content accessed via their mobile networks. Mobile Operators will use this as a basis for their code of practice for content, meaning content that would be age rated 18 by the BBFC, can be put behind access filters.

The Classification Framework designed by the BBFC allows mobile operators to classify their own commercial content and to calibrate the filters they use to restrict content accessible by children via a mobile operator's Internet access service. Such content will include pornography and other adult sexual content, pro-ana websites and content which promotes or glorifies discrimination or real life violence.

The BBFC's new partnership will better enable EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to make consistent, evidence based and transparent decisions about the use of Internet filters and will make a significant contribution to protecting children from unsuitable and even harmful content accessed through their mobile devices.

This development is merely the most recent example of how, in partnership with industry, we are bringing 100 years of regulatory experience and expertise to bear in ways which the film industry creators of the BBFC could scarcely have imagined.

Our best practice, voluntary service to age rate online video content is now well established. Many VOD platforms now carry BBFC symbols and content advice. They range in size from the very largest, such as Apple's iTunes and Netflix, via household names such as Tesco's Blinkbox, to more specialist platforms such as The Horror Show. We have classified over 200,000 items of film and video content for online distribution.

Parents have told us how much they value seeing trusted BBFC ratings and advice as they navigate what can be a confusing online landscape. Some 90% consider it important to have consistent BBFC classifications available for VOD content. Another 89% check BBFC classifications on films that they and their children download, even though this is not always easy to do. An additional 82% prefer to download films which carry a BBFC online classification over those films which do not.

We are increasingly working internationally to improve online child protection. In 2012, Neelie Kroess's CEO Coalition on Child Internet safety tasked us and other international partners to devise ways of age rating User Generated Content (UGC), the better to empower consumers and protect children online.

This demand presented us with a massive challenge. The sheer volume of UGC means that no existing classification model anywhere in the world would work. The classic BBFC model for age rating film, DVD and professionally produced VOD whereby trained examiners watch content and assign an age rating and content advice is not scalable for UGC. A radically different model was required.

So the BBFC and the Dutch media regulator NICAM took up the challenge. After several months' work, we created a prototype tool which can be used anywhere in the world to produce community ratings based on differing national standards.

What we created is a simple, easy to use questionnaire consisting of six questions. These questions may be completed by those viewing the video, or uploaders, or both. The questionnaire produces different ratings for different countries, taking account of cultural and societal differences. It can be customised to meet the requirements of individual platforms/services. Importantly, the ratings can be linked to filters.

Italian viewers will soon be able to make use of this international ratings tool. Italian media giant Mediaset will shortly being trialling the rating tool for users of its 16MM website and television channel.

We will be monitoring the results of this pilot project closely. What we learn from this trial will help us as we work with other platforms to see how they might apply the tool.

The BBFC is increasingly active in the online space, working in partnership with the home entertainment industry, mobile operators, international partners and the public to improve child protection and consumer empowerment. To offer where possible the trusted guide that the public tells us it wants. The BBFC has come a long way from the days of regulating silent, black and white photoplays.