R21 films at online video stores? Yes -- but...

10 July 2016 / 3 months 2 weeks ago

Irene Tham
The Straits Times
7 July 2016

MDA says these films unsuitable for kids must come with parental locks, age verification measures.

Online video stores can now sell R21-rated dramas and movies with the relaxation of rules that govern their sale, but conditions to protect younger viewers apply.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) posted a notice on its website yesterday, saying that online retailers can sell R21 titles unsuitable for children but must put these titles - such as Fifty Shades Of Grey, Game Of Thrones, Marco Polo and Pulp Fiction - behind parental locks and age verification measures.

These measures include requiring credit card payments - to ensure subscribers are at least 21 - and a PIN number to be entered before viewing.

Online video service providers must also allow parents to cancel or transfer access of the account should they complain that their children had subscribed without their knowledge.

An MDA spokesman said the decision was "calibrated" to give adults access to a wider range of content and yet ensure baseline safeguards to protect the young.

"There are increasingly more services offering on-demand content which users can access via their computers and mobile devices," the spokesman added.

The greater clarity on the online retail of R21 content comes amid a review of Singapore's media laws to ensure parity between overseas and local broadcasters.

The disparity became more apparent after Apple's and Google's Singapore video stores - launched in 2012 and last year respectively - were found to carry R21 titles. They have since removed the titles.

Meanwhile, bricks-and-mortar film distributors here are still not allowed to sell these titles, or they could be fined. But the penalties may not apply to online video players as Singapore's current media laws are silent on whether they need a licence to operate here.

Local pay-TV broadcasters Singtel and StarHub have had parental locks installed since 2012 to control the sale of R21 titles on their video-on-demand platforms. For instance, a four-digit PIN is required to view R21 titles.

Netflix, a United States-based video-streaming service which made its debut here in January, has also put R21-rated titles behind parental locks - a first by an overseas online content distributor that targets local consumers.

Mr Jonathan Spink, the chief executive officer of pay-TV broadcaster HBO Asia, applauded the MDA decision.

"We look forward to introducing R21 HBO content to Singapore very soon," he said.

StarHub also welcomed the move, saying it can now offer R21 titles "in their original forms" over its online platform, StarHub Go.

A Singtel spokesman said: "We support a level playing field and the application of these safeguard measures to all."

Business owner Loke Huiying, 33, who has two children aged five and seven, said the MDA move is inevitable.

"But I'm glad that parental control technologies are compulsory if online video stores want to sell these titles," she said.

This article was first published on July 9, 2016.
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