The British Board of Film Classification

FOCUS GROUPS, FILM PARTIES, CINEMA SCREENINGS, ONLINE SURVEYS, COMMUNITIES

Our Client

The BBFC serves as the UK's independent regulator for film and video, committed to helping viewers select age-appropriate content across all platforms. Their well-recognised age-ratings symbols can be seen before films in the cinema, on DVD packaging and on streaming platforms like Netflix. The BBFC operates as a not-for-profit and is funded by service fees. They classify content for cinema, physical media, VoD, and commercial internet content, incorporating extensive research, expert advice, and experience into their guidelines. We have previously worked with the BBFC on research projects exploring discrimination in film and ratings consistency in streaming services. It was an honour to work with them again, this time updating their Classification Guidelines. 

The Classification Guidelines are updated every five years through nationwide consultations, which We Are Family conducted over 2023. Using a variety of methodologies across the UK, our research aimed to uncover evolving societal standards to ensure that the BBFC makes fair and reasonable ratings decisions when it comes to content. It gave the BBFC unparalleled insights into audience expectations for different age groups, as well as a breakdown of key brand metrics for the BBFC, such as trust and awareness.

At a Glance

The BBFC asked We are Family to evaluate whether their existing Classification Guidelines remain fit for people in the UK. To achieve this, we created wide-ranging, mixed-methodology research programme that included - 

  • 31 Focus groups around the UK

  • An online community to deep dive into more sensitive and serious issues 

  • Self-Moderated, teen film parties, where teenagers host their own focus groups 

  • Hosted cinema screenings

  • A 15-minute-long online survey going to over 11,000 people 

In total we spoke to 12,000 people across the UK, and tested 33 full length movies, 31 trailers, 152 clips and 1 TV episode. This comprehensive approach provided deep insights into how the BBFC should change their classification guidelines.  

The Details

Focus Groups 

Focus groups allowed us to get a nuanced understanding of audience perceptions to a wide variety of film content through a geographical and culturally diverse sample. We conducted 31 focus groups spanning central, suburban, and rural areas across the UK, including London, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast, and Edinburgh. These two-hour sessions involved 189 participants. We assigned the participants a pre-task of watching three to four films before the focus group, and then viewing between 5-18 clips or trailers during the session. The groups—moderated and observed by senior researchers—consisted of diverse voices, ensuring a broad range of perspectives with an overrepresentation of minority groups. Among the participants were 97 parents, 19 grandparents, 29 teachers, and 25 teens. For analysis, 152 clips, 31 trailers, one TV episode, and 33 full features were used, and all sessions were recorded. 

Teen Film Parties 

Teen Film Parties were a novel, peer-led methodology that allowed teens to speak honestly and freely, without the constraints of ‘prying’ adults. As part of the study, we coordinated 6 Teen Film Parties, engaging 33 teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. A lead (or host) teen (age 13-19), who was briefed and trained by senior moderators, hosted and recorded film viewing parties in their homes. They watched films like The House With A Clock In Its Walls and Beautiful Boy and discussed content issues to explore classification boundaries. Afterwards, senior moderators discussed the insights in a debrief call. We even enlisted two teens from the BBFC Youth Panel to take part. The films and discussions were selected to challenge the teens with themes close to classification thresholds, such as drug use at the 15/18 border.  

Cinema Screenings 

By hosting cinema screenings across four major UK cities, we sought to replicate the traditional film-viewing experience, facilitating a realistic context for participants' reactions and feedback on a selection of trailers and films. We hosted the screenings in Belfast, London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff, speaking to 327 participants in total. The screenings were held at Cineworld cinemas in each location and participants were required to watch a selection of trailers and a feature film such as Turning Red and M3GAN. Attendees completed surveys before and after the screenings to provide viewing habits and feedback on the content. We used interactive polling software to conduct the surveys and facilitate post-screening discussions related to what they saw.  

Online Survey  

Our extensive online survey was designed to harness a broad and diverse range of viewer opinions, achieving an in-depth analysis of attitudes towards film content and BBFC KPIs. We surveyed 11,434 participants, with 1,272 coming directly via the BBFC website. A nationally representative sample of 10,162 participants covered the whole of the UK, in addition to two subsets of 1,078 teachers and 1,683 teenagers aged 16-19. The survey focused on core BBFC metrics such as awareness and trust and got participants to evaluate specific clips. In total, we used 60 different clips and trailers, with at least 173 individuals assessing each one.  

The Outcome

Our findings support that the BBFC and its iconic age rating symbols are highly trusted, well recognised and valued by audiences across the UK.  

In addition, we worked closely with the BBFC to develop 6 main research recommendations for the Classification Guidelines going forward: 

  • People are more concerned about violence across all the age rating categories than they were in previous guidelines’ research. Support remains for the BBFC's existing approach to classifying violence, but there is concern around distressing and disturbing forms of intense or realistic violence. For content on the borderline of two categories, people want them to err on the side of caution. 

  • Suicide and Self-harm are the second biggest area of concern after Sexual Violence. People value the inclusion of these issues in content advice. BBFC Classification Guidelines will also recognise Suicide and Self-harm as a core classification area. 

  • Our research revealed that UK audiences are now slightly more accepting of cannabis misuse at 12A/12. Providing the usage is not detailed, glamourised or frequent, the BBFC will take a less restrictive approach to classifying this material. The results also indicated that the BBFC’s policy on solvent abuse could also be treated less restrictively. 

  • People are calling for a more cautious approach to classifying sex scenes at 12A/12, resulting in a higher age rating. However, our research shows audiences are open to more lenient handling of sex references at the 15/18 borderline, particularly in comedic contexts. 

  • People want the BBFC to be stricter on language at PG. Particularly terms with sexual or misogynistic meanings, like 'son of a bitch', 'bitch', 'dick’ etc. Parents and teachers expressed concern over normalising such language among young viewers. 

  • Audiences are comfortable with the relaxation of standards across most areas when it comes to trailers, especially at the junior categories (U, PG and 12A/12). For example, in some cases, this may include isolated use of strong language in trailers at 12A/12. 

 

These recommendations and changes to the Classification Guidelines will shape how films and content are classified for the next 4-5 years. Our findings generated widespread media attention and were featured in The Guardian, BBC, The Daily Mail, Deadline and more. Even prior to publishing, our recommendations played a pivotal role in how Paramount’s Bob Marley biopic, One Love, was classified. In previous Classification Guidelines, this film would have been rated a 15, but considering our findings the BBFC opted for a 12A/12 rating.  

Over the course of a year, we had a fascinating time devising methodologies, conducting field work and analysing results for the BBFC. It’s no easy job reflecting the values of the UK, but through comprehensive content testing and novel methodologies we managed to provide the BBFC with an accurate read of the UK’s opinions on content. This was the BBFC’s largest-ever public consultation, and we are delighted to see the results put into practice going forward.  

 

“We Are Family have delivered a number of extremely in depth research projects for the BBFC in the last few years, including research into Discrimination in films and series and our latest Classification Guidelines research. 
 
They are professional, friendly, approachable and are always attentive to the needs and goals of our business and the specific requirements of the particular project.  They present new ways of working, are extremely meticulous and generally a pleasure to work with.  They feel like an extension of the team. I can’t rate them highly enough!” -  Faye Harcourt, Director, Marketing and Outreach 

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