AOL and Neopets Cited for Running Violent Film Ads on Kids’ Sites

In a new report criticizing the entertainment industry for marketing violent content to children, the Federal Trade Commission cited eight Web sites for hosting inappropriately placed ads.

Neopets, RuneScape, WWE Superstars, Bebo, Photobucket, AOL.com, AIM Today, Imeem, and YouTube all carried ads for violent R-rated movies last year, according to the report. Seven of the 20 top-grossing violent R-rated films of 2008 were advertising on sites that targeted children under 13, such as Neopets, RuneScape and WWE Superstars. Eight of the 20 top-grossing violent PG-13-rated films were advertised on sites for children under 13.

While Internet publishers are not the target of the report — the FTC is calling upon the entertainment industry to do a better job of placing its ads — the study does call into question a publisher’s responsibility for the ads that appear on his or her site.

Keith Fentonmiller, senior attorney with the FTC, said the government agency had not yet approached the Web sites named in this report as it did TV networks.

“We haven’t reached out specifically to Web sites as opposed to some of the television [stations] like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network to try and figure out what their standards are,” he said. He added that it is “implicit” in the report that publishers should take responsibility for the advertising on their sites.

Whether publishers should be responsible for the ads that appear on their sites could take on new urgency as cash-strapped publishers turn to ad networks to monetize growing stockpiles of unsold display inventory. Fentonmiller said when it came to compiling the report, there was no distinction made between an ad sold directly by a publisher and one delivered by a network.

“Particularly with the Web, it’s difficult,” he said. “The whole ad network thing just adds a whole other wrinkle to it.”

Earlier this year, President Obama named Jon Leibowitz, a vocal critic of the online advertising industry, chairman of the FTC in a move that some thought signaled a shift at the agency toward focusing more on the Internet ad industry.

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