Whether it's by tablet, computer or television, children across the country are accessing Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms on a daily basis but, according to a recent study, many of these services are unsafe for children.
According to the Parents Television Council, the organization that conducted the research, this is largely due to the fact that many of these widely used services have "lax or nonexistent" parental controls, giving children easy access to mature content.
Plenty of mature content is available, according to a news release about the study. PTC found that the majority of original streaming content was rated TV-MA. On Netflix specifically, 65 percent of original content is rated TV-MA, with 1 percent rated G and 8 percent rated PG.
The study, titled "Over-the-Top or a Race to the Bottom: A Parent's Guide to Streaming Video," examined how effective parental controls are and how readily available child and family content is through the top streaming video on demand services — Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix — as well as on the most popular streaming devices — Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Google Chromecast and Roku. The study narrowed in to exclusively look at the original content provided on each streaming service due to the volume and flux of content provided overall.
"There is a lack of information out there about which devices and services best serve families, so the PTC decided to undertake a review and comparison of some of the most streaming video on demand services and devices from a parents' perspective," said PTC president Tim Winter during a conference call presenting the study.
According to the study, if families are seeking "a child-safe or family friendly alternative to traditional broadcast and cable television," they are "not well-served" with current streaming services and devices.
Winter and Melissa Henson, PTC program director and author of the study, highlighted several of the study's key findings in a conference call.
"The first thing we found, which frankly surprised me, is there is no consistency in the application or visibility of age-based content ratings among the top (streaming service) providers," Henson said.
While Netflix provides an age rating for an entire series, it does not provide it for individual episodes, and the rating is not displayed at the beginning of the episode. In contrast, Hulu does provide ratings for individual episodes that is displayed at the beginning, but it is harder to find the ratings in other places.
Both Hulu and Netflix allow parents to create a separate user profile for children, but passcodes are not required to switch to an adult profile. Amazon Prime does not provide a separate profile option for children but instead treats children's programs as a genre, according to Henson.
Streaming services offer categories with content that may be offensive that is "in close proximity to child-friendly categories," or the services may require users to scroll past adult-themed content to get to children's content, according to the study. Henson pointed to an example from Netflix where the adult content such as "Family Guy" and "Sausage Party" was listed next to family movies such as "Minions," "Finding Dory" and "The BFG."
"The biggest problem with giving kids free rein to browse around in adult profiles is the titles and cover art themselves can be pretty bad," Henson said. "The juxtaposition of adult titles with children's titles can also cause confusion."
The report includes a report card for the four streaming devices studied and their effectiveness in allowing parents to filter content. Google Chromecast was given an A, Apple TV a B, Amazon FireTV a C and Roku a D.
Winter cited the release of "13 Reasons Why," a Netflix series about a teen girl's reasons for committing suicide, as an example as to why this recent study was important.
"Parents were mostly unaware of the program and the viewing frenzy around it, but when they became aware, they were rightly concerned about the content," he said.
The research and report was in process before the series hit Netflix in April, but Henson said it added additional context.
"I think the release of that series certainly increased the urgency for us to get something out on this topic," she said.
In the report, PTC calls on the streaming service and device providers to make changes to make parental controls easier to use and more effective, but Henson also encourages parents to make changes as well.
"Parents need to make themselves aware of the parental controls that are available to them and really do some comparison shopping and know what the strengths and relative weaknesses are of the various devices," she said.
The full study can be read at parentstv.org.