New Classification Markings For DVDs

by Glen Randall

    The way your DVDs look is changing, but you may not think it's for the better.

    The Office of Film & Literature Classification has implemented new regulations regarding the display of classification markings on DVDs, as well as computer games, movie posters and so forth. Film classification markings are not new - most of us are familiar with seeing a film's rating (G, PG, M, MA15+, and so forth) on DVDs. What is new is how these are now to be displayed, and many are finding the new format unattractive.

    The new code makes the classification far more prominent on the packaging. The ratings are all colour-coded in bright, eye-catching colours (aside from R18+ and X18+, both of which are black). The labels are rectangular in shape, the left half showing the film's rating displayed on its designated background colour, the right half white with consumer advice listed. Consumer advice refers to the notations that describe the content of the specific title such as mild violence, moderate sex scenes, strong violence, frequent coarse language and so forth.

    The new code is also very specific about the size and location of the advisory. For DVDs the classification marking must be on the lower left corner of the face slick and must be at least 5% of the overall height of the slick. The new markings are significantly larger and brighter than the old style.

    Take a look at some cover art courtesy of EzyDVD. Compare the old rating advisory on Alien Vs Predator with the new advisory on Sahara and you will see the impact the new markings have on the cover art. Whatever else you may think about them, you have to admit - they are noticeable.

    But does the consumer want such noticeable labelling? It seems no-one is really happy to see the new rating advisories on their DVDs. Many believe that this new system defaces the cover art. Some just think they're ugly. Others probably don't care. But few seem to actually welcome the changes.

    At least one internet petition has been started to convince The Office of Film & Literature Classification to modify the regulations and this site has received comments from its readers expressing outrage at the new markings, some even to the extent of claiming that they will buy overseas rather than purchasing a "defaced" Region 4 disc. The main concern for enthusiasts is that the bold labelling spoils the cover art and makes the DVD less collectable.

    The industry itself isn't saying too much. I approached the local DVD distributors for their opinions of the new markings and most refused to comment or gave the standard "we adhere to all advisory laws as outlined by the OFLC" statement. Those that were willing to talk expressed mixed feelings. While they felt the changes were good in that they were obvious and therefore easy for the consumer to locate, they also expressed concern that the labels cause artistic detriment to the covers. Cover art is something that studios and distributors spend a great deal of time trying to get right so their DVD grabs your attention from amongst the hundreds on the display racks. The addition of a brightly coloured, large label can ruin the artwork by clashing with or overpowering it. One distributor described the labels as overdone and too bold, becoming tacky and an eyesore, clearly believing the same information could have been conveyed in a more tasteful manner.

    In fairness to The Office of Film & Literature Classification, distributors were asked for feedback prior to the regulations being implemented, but as one distributor told me, the demands of running the business left little time for them to evaluate and respond to the request.

    So, why has The Office of Film & Literature Classification felt the need to impose such an unpopular regulation? I emailed the OFLC to get their response to the negative feedback from enthusiasts, but as of the time of writing I have received no reply. Their website offers this explanation for the change:

Research conducted by the OFLC, as well as feedback it has received from consumers and industry, has consistently indicated that the old classification markings often suffered from being hard to find or hard to read because they were too small or not obvious enough against the background. Research also revealed that there was low awareness that computer games carried classifications, low understanding of the meanings of M and MA 15+ and low usage and understanding of consumer advice. The new classifications are designed to address these issues and make classification information easier to find and use when you are making entertainment decisions for you and/or your family and friends.

    No one disputes the need for film classification and for clear advisories of content being available so the consumer can make educated decisions on what he or she will watch, but it does seem like the Office of Film & Literature Classification is being overzealous in its responsibilities by imposing such garish labelling on the front covers of DVDs. The new markings are just too bold. Aesthetically , they are far from pleasing. I feel as if the OFLC is treating me like a child, unable to discern their advisories unless they are in big, bright colours. Yes they do make the rating advice easier to find and clearer in meaning, but the cost to good taste seems rather high.

    My opinion, and I think most of the reviewers here would agree with me, is that the new classification markings are an eyesore and The Office of Film & Literature Classification should reconsider their decision. While I support their efforts to have clear and consistent content information on DVDs, I think that they have been so focussed on the classification markers that they have neglected to look at the whole product. The result is an add-on label that is not only obvious, but looks out of place and amateurish in execution. Surely a system similar to the one used in the UK, where a smaller, colour-coded rating symbol is used on the front cover with the rating symbol and consumer advice on the rear, would have achieved the same results without undue impact on the cover art.

    Whatever your opinion, it looks like the new classification markings are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. While some have threatened to boycott Region 4 discs over the issue, it is doubtful these will have a significant impact on sales. The majority of DVD buyers will not be bothered and probably don't really care that much as DVDs are no longer an enthusiast's medium, they are very much mainstream. Many people don't even understand region coding, NTSC vs PAL, or DTS vs Dolby Digital 5.1, so searching Region 1 or Region 2 DVD sites just to avoid a cover label will not matter to them. If you wish to voice your concerns to The Office of Film & Literature Classification, then you can email them or sign the petition at Whether these actions will change the minds of the OFLC is debateable, but it is always worth voicing your opinion. If enough people speak up, the OFLC may reconsider. For now we will just have to accept that our DVD cover art may never be the same again.

14th December 2005