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Research: New Zealanders want trusted classifications in a changing media environment

Posted on 4 July 2016 by Henry

We commissioned Colmar Brunton to carry out a survey of the public's views about, and understanding of, the classification system — and about New Zealanders’ changing media use habits.

This representative survey of 1,000 people found that New Zealanders continue to have a high level of trust in the classification system, despite a rapidly changing entertainment media environment. This research follows on from similar research conducted in 2006 and 2011. The results show:

  • 92% think classifications are important when choosing entertainment media for children and teens
  • 69% think the Classification Office is doing a 'good' or 'excellent' job
  • 73% think classifications are 'about right' — not too strict or too lenient

Read our summary webpage and download the full report: Changing media use and public perceptions of the classification system

Changing media use in New Zealand

This research represents one of the more comprehensive surveys of media use frequency in New Zealand. The survey reveals differences in how movies, television shows and games are accessed across a variety of platforms — including broadcast television, illegal file-sharing websites, paid streaming services and various other platforms.

The most striking findings of this research concern media use — amongst adults, children and teenagers. Change has been constant over the past ten years, but this change has been accelerating. In May 2006, the Xbox 360 had only just been launched, and the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 were months away. The original iPhone — a technology that had a massive impact on the gaming industry — would not be released in New Zealand for two more years. VHS was dying as a format, Blu-ray had not yet been released, and DVD was still the most popular format for watching movies. In 2011 the media use landscape had changed significantly, but fast-forward to 2016 and the changes we see in how people are accessing media are startling. Since 2011, broadband speed and access has greatly improved, and online streaming of movies and television shows has become mainstream — with Google, Apple, Netflix and Spark, among others, all offering video on demand services to increasing numbers of New Zealanders.

Chart showing media use by format/medium

Our survey shows that around half (47%) of New Zealanders now watch television shows or movies using a video on demand service at least once a week. Compare this to the number weekly watching DVD/Blu-ray (17%) and the shift to online use is clear — with younger people leading the way.

From a classification perspective, the changes of the past five years are the most significant since the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act was passed in 1993. Until relatively recently, the vast majority of people watching movies or television shows (other than on broadcast television) were doing so in cinemas, or on physical home video formats like DVDs. This meant that classifications were highly visible, and relatively simple to understand and enforce. Classifications are used online however, and our challenge is to encourage their adoption by distributors, and to educate the public about where to find and how to use these classifications in an online space — where enforcement previously carried out by cinema or retail staff is replaced by parental controls on online services.

What is the public’s perceptions and understanding of the Office of Film and Literature Classification?

The survey shows that while three-quarters of New Zealanders are aware of the Classification Office, this number has been declining since 2006 (when 94% had heard of the Office). Despite this, actual knowledge is reasonably good — 85% of those aware of the Classification Office are able to correctly name at least one of our functions, and when given a brief description of our role, 84% of the full sample knew enough about us to give an opinion about our performance.

Views about the Classification Office remain positive — with 69% rating our performance as 'good' or 'excellent' (or 82% of those who know enough about the Office to say). This compares favourably with 22 government departments/organisations listed in UMR's 2016 Mood of the Nation survey, in which only the New Zealand Police and New Zealand Fire Service have a higher 'good' or 'excellent' favourability rating than the Classification Office (at 75% and 84% respectively).

How does the public perceive, understand and use the New Zealand classification system?

Knowledge of most individual classifications remains high, however there has been a drop in understanding since 2011 (an average of 4%). This is partly to be expected due to the proliferation of alternative online labelling systems (for example on games from mobile app stores) and the decline in DVD/video use.

Improving people's understanding of the unrestricted M classification has been a focus of ours for years, and — unlike the other labels — understanding has remained steady since 2011. However the continued lower level of understanding of the M classification is concerning, and will continue to be a focus of educational efforts.

Chart showing perceptions of the classification system

Great care is put into classification decisions to ensure a level of consistency while remaining in line with public opinion, and so it's reassuring that the majority of New Zealanders believe the classification system is applied appropriately — neither too strict nor too lenient — and that there has been a small but statistically significant increase in those who believe it is 'about right' since 2011.

What does this research say about the future of the classification system?

This period of bedding in of online distribution services creates difficulties from a classification perspective — with the decline of DVD use classification labels aren't as common as they once were, and it's not surprising that there’s been a drop in awareness of the Classification Office and of classifications. Nonetheless, the message of this survey is hopeful. Despite the decline in DVD use, and the proliferation of alternative labelling systems online, the survey shows that New Zealanders continue to have a high level of trust in the Classification Office, confidence in its classifications, and a good general knowledge of the meaning of labels. Crucially, classification information is still important to the vast majority of New Zealanders when making decisions about what young people can watch or play.

Many online providers — including Netflix, Google, Apple, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft — currently use our classifications when supplying movies, shows or games to New Zealanders. Overall, the use of official classifications online is variable — information can be hard to spot compared with a traditional DVD label, and some providers are not using official classifications at all.

Our 2016 research with UMR showed that 83% of New Zealanders think classifications should be the same for movies, television shows or games, regardless of where/how they are accessed — and of this number, 66% would prefer the classifications currently assigned by the Classification Office.

Research: New Zealanders want one classification system for movies, TV shows and games

Together, the UMR research and the current survey demonstrate the relevance and importance of traditional, trusted classifications in the online space. Hopefully the voices of the New Zealand public are heard — and in five years we can look back at this time of transition as a necessary step on the way to a comprehensive, platform neutral classification system. In the meantime, classifications will continue to provide guidance, protection, and peace of mind for New Zealand families.

For more information about the classification system, contact our Information Unit.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Cover of our research report - Understanding the Classification System: New Zealanders' Views

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