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HomeGuidesTV-MA vs R: Here's what to know about maturity rating systems

TV-MA vs R: Here’s what to know about maturity rating systems

Content ratings follow the great goal – to identify viewers about what they would be watching. I remember watching a R-rated movie when I was a child, and a scene where one bandito killed another by watering him with gasoline terrified me for some nights ahead.

That was so dramatic and hurt my imagination that I remember this even now, despite almost 20 years gone from that episode of my childhood life.

So all these ratings are here to protect people (not only children but anyone who doesn’t want to watch mature content and scenes) from traumatic content. There’s one problem: all those ratings are difficult to understand.

Both TV-MA and R indicate “Mature Audience Only,” but TV-MA is used on television or streaming, while R is used in theaters to indicate films. Content rated with TV-MA or R isn’t supposed to be viewed by people under 17. It may contain mature themes, strong language, intense violence, and graphic sexual content.

But there’s one difference. While TV-MA is absolutely not supposed for people under 17, the “R” (R stands for Restricted) rating insists on the need for adult supervision in theaters.

For content that’s inappropriate to people under 17, even with an accompanying adult (parent or guardian), there’s a special NC-17 rating. The content rated under NC-17 is absolutely inappropriate for those under 17.

TV-MA (as well as other ratings) are usually displayed in the initial 15 seconds of a television show’s broadcast; the program’s rating symbol can be seen in the upper left corner of the screen. If the duration is more than an hour, the symbol reappears at the beginning of the 2nd hour. Rating marks are usually also displayed after any commercial breaks.

Here’s everything you need to know about TV-MA and R ratings.

Understanding Maturity Ratings

There are 2 types of maturity ratings used for different content types.

One of them is the TV Parental Guidelines, originally designed for television. Another is the rating system created by Motion Picture Association (MPA). And TV-MA is from Parental Guidelines, while R is from MBA rating.

And now it’s time to ask: Well, so is there any reason to compare them? And yes, it is. Just one example, Netflix combines them both to explain how they use maturity ratings. So I think that’s appropriate to compare them to know the difference.

What is TV-MA?

Content-rated TV-MA in the United States, according to TV Parental Guidelines, is used to mark content for mature audiences (actually, MA is the abbreviation of Mature Audience, though).

This rating is used for television programs (but it’s also used by streaming and games), and it suggests that the content is intended specifically for adults and may not be suitable for children under 17.

TV-MA-rated content may contain one or more of the following:

  • Strong, coarse language: This could include frequent use of profanity, slurs, or other offensive language.
  • Intense violence: This could involve graphic depictions of violent acts, including but not limited to physical fights, shootings, stabbings, or scenes involving blood and gore.
  • Explicit sexual content includes sexual acts, sexually explicit dialogue, and nudity.
  • Graphic depictions of illegal substance use: This could include scenes where characters are using or dealing.

The guidelines for TV-MA content are intentionally broad because the rating covers a wide range of mature content. The rating is designed to provide viewers with a general understanding of the type of content they can expect, allowing them to make an informed decision about what to watch. And to indicate that the content is inappropriate for people under 17 or 18 years old.

What is R?

“R” is a film rating given by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), primarily used in the United States. “R” stands for “Restricted.”

An R-rated film includes, but is not necessarily limited to, movies that may contain some of the following:

  • Adult Themes: This could involve mature or complicated situations that are often better understood by adults.
  • Hard Language: Frequent usage of strong or curse words is usually found in R-rated films.
  • Intense or Persistent Violence: This includes graphic and extended scenes of violence, which can sometimes be quite brutal or bloody.
  • Sexually Oriented Nudity: This could involve scenes of nudity in a sexual context or explicit sexual scenes.
  • Abuse: This could include detailed scenes of illegal usage or its effects.

The “Restricted” designation indicates that viewers under the age of 17 are not allowed to watch the movie in a theater without an accompanying parent or adult guardian. The main goal of the R rating is to alert viewers to inappropriate content for children or younger viewers. But people under 17 can still watch such films if their parents or guardians will decide that it’s appropriate and will make them company.

The R rating is part of a larger system designed to help viewers and their parents make informed decisions about what is appropriate to watch. And, as I said, it may be appropriate for people under 17 if they will watch such content with parents/guardians, so the decision on whether to allow children to watch such content is on their side.

TV-MA vs R: What is worse?

I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to decide which of them is “worse,” as that’s rating systems, and they’re made for different content types (TV-MA for TV shows and content, R for theaters), but let’s try to compare them.

While TV-MA means the content is unsuitable for people under 17, an “R” rating allows them to watch films when accompanied by adults.

And TV-MA is the most strict rating for TV shows and other content, while for films, there’s one more strict rating: NC-17. So we can draw a conclusion that TV-MA is worse, as there’s nothing more strict to rate more mature content.

But the trick is that unlike theaters (where there’s an option not to sell a ticket/don’t allow to watch people under 17), there’s no option not to show such content on TV or streaming (until there’s parental control or the proper age set). That’s why Parental Guidelines mentions that this content “may be unsuitable for children under 17”.

What is NC-17?

The “NC-17” rating is another classification given by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) in the United States. It stands for “No One 17 and Under Admitted.”

A film with an NC-17 rating might contain any of the following:

  • Explicit sexual content: Unlike an R-rated film, an NC-17 film might contain sexually explicit scenes that are more graphic or prolonged.
  • Extreme violence: This could refer to very graphic, disturbing or intense violent content.
  • Realistic depiction of use: This might include detailed portrayals of the use, abuse, or effects.

The key feature of an NC-17 rating is that, unlike an R-rated film where those under 17 can attend with a parent or guardian, no one 17 or under is admitted to an NC-17 film at all, regardless of accompaniment.

This rating isn’t as commonly used as others like G, PG, PG-13, or R, as it can limit the film’s audience and, in turn, its commercial success. Many theater chains and home video retailers have policies against carrying NC-17-rated movies. As a result, filmmakers often edit their films to achieve an R rating to avoid the commercial limitations associated with an NC-17 rating.

TV-MA vs NC-17

TV-MA and NC-17 are both ratings indicating mature content, but they apply to different mediums and have some differences.

TV-MA rating is used for television programs, indicating that the show is intended for adults and may not be suitable for children under 17. As I said, TV-MA-rated content may contain explicit language, intense violence, explicit sexual content, and graphic depictions of drug use.

On the other hand, “NC-17” is a film rating given by the Motion Picture Association (MPA). It stands for “No One 17 and Under Admitted.” NC-17-rated films may contain sex scenes, extreme violence, or substance abuse, which are more intense and explicit than those found in an R-rated film. The main difference from TV-MA is that, in theaters, no one 17 and under is permitted to attend an NC-17 film at all, even with an accompanying adult or guardian.

While both ratings signal mature content, TV-MA is used for television shows and doesn’t enforce viewer age restrictions (as I said, there’s no even way to properly restrict viewers, so that’s up to parents to control what their children are watching), whereas NC-17 is used for films and strictly prohibits admission to viewers 17 and under in theaters.

R vs NC-17

“R” and “NC-17” are two types of film ratings given by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) in the United States, each conveying a different level of mature content.

The “R” rating stands for “Restricted.” It means that viewers under 17 are required to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian when watching the movie in a theater. R-rated films may contain strong language, hard violence, nudity, or abuse.

On the other hand, “NC-17” stands for “No One 17 and Under Admitted”. It is a more restrictive rating than “R.” NC-17 films may contain explicit sex scenes, extreme violence, or other content that the MPA deems inappropriate for viewers 17 and under. Unlike R-rated films, where those under 17 can attend with an adult, no one 17 or under can attend an NC-17 film, regardless of accompaniment.

While both ratings signify content intended for mature audiences, the key difference is in the level of restriction—NC-17 is stricter, prohibiting viewers 17 and under entirely, while R allows for younger viewers, given an adult, to accompany them.

What is TV-14?

TV-14 rating indicates that the television program may contain some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.

A TV-14-rated program may include moderate or strong language, intense violence, or suggestive dialogue, but not as graphic or intense as shows rated TV-MA. Parents are urged to exercise “parental caution” and may want to watch these shows with their children or ensure the content aligns with their personal standards and values.

What does DLSV next to TV-MA mean?

TV-MA is the gatekeeper to shows that delve into mature themes and subject matter. The American rating system utilizes specific content descriptors to give viewers an understanding of why content is under TV-MA. This abbreviation can come together (in case the content contains all the mature content types), or there may be only some of them in case there are only some types of mature content.

And DLSV may come not only with TV-MA but also with a TV-14 rating. It indicates that the content may be unsuitable for children under 14. It can include moderate to strong language, intense violence, sexual content, or suggestive dialogue, but these elements are not as graphic or intense as content-rated TV-MA.

D stands for Suggestive Dialogue

This content descriptor comes into play when a program includes dialogues subtly hinting at or implying sexual themes. While suggestive dialogue alone may not trigger a TV-MA rating, it frequently appears in TV-14 programs, adding a layer of nuance to the storytelling.

For instance, in a medical drama, characters engaging in flirtatious banter or discussing intimate relationships might receive the D descriptor to indicate the presence of suggestive dialogue.

L stands for Coarse Language

Vulgar expressions, profanity, and impolite or offensive language find their place within this descriptor. Strong language can contribute to a program’s tone, authenticity, or emotional impact.

In a gritty crime series set in an urban landscape, characters expressing themselves with street slang, explicit profanity, or raw dialogue might receive the L descriptor to reflect the coarse language prevalent in their world.

S stands for Sexual Content

When a program contains explicit sexual content, the S comes into play. This can range from passionate love scenes and suggestive gestures to nudity or depictions of sexual acts.

For example, a mature drama exploring the intricacies of human relationships might feature intimate scenes between characters, showcasing their emotional and physical connections. In such cases, the S descriptor would be applied to alert viewers to the presence of sexual content.

V stands for Violence

The V is assigned to programs featuring intense or graphic violence. This encompasses various forms of physical confrontations, combat, or aggressive behavior.

In a dark thriller series centered around a serial killer, scenes depicting violent acts, such as brutal murders or intense fight sequences, would receive the V descriptor to inform viewers about the presence of explicit violence.

While these content descriptors provide a general understanding, it’s important to note that individual programs may feature a combination of descriptors or even introduce additional ones to convey a more comprehensive picture of the content.

FV stands for Fantasy Violence

The rating “FV” stands for “Fantasy Violence,” and it’s often paired with the “TV-Y7” rating to form “TV-Y7-FV”. This specific rating is intended for children aged 7 and older. The “FV” signifies that the program includes scenes of violence that are more intense or combative than what is typically found in a TV Y7-rated show. However, this violence is grounded in fantasy, meaning it may involve imaginary creatures, supernatural elements, or non-realistic settings. Although it indicates a higher level of violence than typically found in children’s content, it is still deemed suitable for viewers who are 7 years and older.

But despite it usually referring to a “kids” rating, it can sometimes be used in TV-14 or TV-MA. That’s rare, but such happens sometimes.

Parental Guidelines Maturity Ratings

In addition to TV-MA, several other ratings are used for parental guidance, according to Parental Guidelines. These ratings are designed to provide viewers with information about the appropriateness of the content for different age groups. Here are some of the commonly used ratings:

  • TV-Y: This rating is intended for young children and signifies that the program suits all ages. It indicates content specifically designed to be educational and appropriate for young viewers.
  • TV-Y7: This rating indicates that the program suits children ages 7 and older. It may contain mild fantasy violence or comedic elements more appropriate for older children.
  • TV-G: This rating signifies that the program is suitable for all audiences. It indicates content generally free of any material parents would find inappropriate for young children.
  • TV-PG: This rating stands for Parental Guidance suggested. It indicates that the program may contain material parents may find unsuitable for younger children. It is recommended that parents watch these programs with their children and make a judgment based on their individual maturity level.
  • TV-14: This rating suggests that the program contains material that may be inappropriate for children under 14. Parents are strongly urged to exercise discretion and consider the age and maturity of their children before allowing them to watch these programs.
  • TV-MA: As mentioned earlier, this rating is intended for mature audiences and signifies that the program is specifically designed for adults. It contains content unsuitable for viewers under 17 years of age.

These ratings and content descriptors help parents and viewers make informed decisions about the appropriateness of programs for themselves and their children.

Motion Picture Association Maturity Ratings

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) in the United States utilizes a classification system to provide information about the content and suitability of films. This is designed to help viewers make informed decisions about what they or their children watch. It involves the following:

  1. G – General Audiences: G-rated movies are considered suitable for all ages. They contain no material that parents would find inappropriate for even their youngest children to see or hear.
  2. PG – Parental Guidance: PG-rated films suggest that parents may want to provide “parental guidance” as some material may not be suitable for children. There may be mild violence, some suggestive material, and language, but generally, the content is considered family-friendly.
  3. PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned: A PG-13 rating indicates that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. These films may contain themes, violence, language, sexual content, or some drug use that parents may find inappropriate for younger children.
  4. R – Restricted: R-rated movies include content that may not be suitable for children under the age of 17. Parents are strongly urged to learn more about the movie before taking their children to see it. An R-rated film may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, or drug abuse.
  5. NC-17 – No One 17 and Under Admitted: An NC-17 rating means that the film is specifically designed for adults, usually due to explicit sexual content, pervasive violence, or substance abuse. It’s the highest rating given by the MPA, and children aged 17 and under are not allowed to attend these films in theaters, even with a parent or guardian.

What shows get a TV-MA rating?

Most shows on channels like Showtime or HBO get this rating. The most famous is South Park (Comedy Central), Nip/Tuck (FX), The Sopranos (HBO), The Walking Dead (AMC), Dexter (Showtime), The Boondocks (Adult Swim), and Game of Thrones (HBO).

This rating is one of the most diverse on American television. In the case of the TV-PG and TV-14 ratings, the content is properly all similar. In the case of TV-MA, the intensity of the content and its content can be very different.

Technically rated for 17-year-olds, shows with these ratings become more graphic and violent than R-rated movies usually can allow.



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