If you’re with the family and about to sit down to watch a new show on Netflix or Hulu, and you see “TV MA” pop up, you might be wondering what it means.
Broadcast and cable television networks and program producers provide the public with different TV ratings that address how age-appropriate their content is. The ratings are meant to help parents decide which shows they should let their kids watch.
TV MA means for “Mature Audience Only”. The show is intended for adults, and is likely unsuitable for children under the age of 17. There may be bad language, explicit sexual activity and/or graphic violence. Game of Thrones is a popular example of a TV MA rated show.
A TV MA rate show is basically the equivalent of an R rated movie, but usually worse.
TV Parental Guideline ratings
It’s no secret that the content we Americans consume has gotten increasingly sexual and violent in nature over recent years.
I challenge you to find a single show on the air today that isn’t sexualized or violent in some way.
Well parents started to get increasingly concerned about this trend, so back in 1996 the US Congress proposed that the television industry start assigning ratings to their shows. This would give parents some sense of the type of content their children were watching.
About 10 days after the proposal, in 1997, the voluntary TV Parental Guideline ratings went into effect.
Shows began presenting a rating to the viewer before the programming began, alerting them that the content they are about to consume is one of the following:
Meant to be suitable for all children. Designed for a very young audience.
Meant for children age 7 and older. May be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality.
“FV” label means the show contains more “fantasy violence”. These shows are usually more intense or combative than shows with just the TV-Y7 rating.
Meant to be suitable for all ages, although the content may be of little interest to children. These shows have little to no violence, mild language and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
May have content that is inappropriate for younger children. May include coarse language, some sexual content, some suggestive dialogue or moderate violence.
Contains material that most parents would find unsuitable for children under the age of 14. Programs with this rating have intensely suggestive dialogue, strong coarse language, intense sexual situations or intense violence.
This content is meant to be viewed by adults only and is not suitable for children under the age of 17. Programs with this rating may include crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, and graphic violence.
TV Parental Guideline content descriptors
As you can tell from reading each of the different TV ratings above, the ratings are really defined by a few main categories: sexual content, language, and violence.
The balance of each of these categories determines the final rating of the show. A show could have a lot of sexual dialogue and situations, but very little, or no violence, and still get a TV MA rating.
Or vice versa. There could be a ton of violence and no sex.
To help further describe the content, content descriptors were established that can be presented alongside the ratings above.
The content descriptors used are as follows:
- D – Sexual or suggestive dialogue
- L – Coarse or crude language
- S – Sexual situations
- V – Violence
Everyone’s parenting style is different, and these descriptors can help parents make tough choices based on their own beliefs. For example some parents may be OK with sexual or suggestive dialogue but not sexual situations.
In that case, seeing a “D” descriptor might be OK, but an “S” would make the show off limits.
Examples of popular TV MA shows
The TV MA rating is really just meant to alert you as the adult, that the show you’re about to watch has some content that is likely not all that suitable for an audience under the age of 17.
But in my opinion, there is fairly wide spectrum when it comes to TV MA rated shows.
For example, I think we can probably agree that there is a pretty big difference between Game Of Thrones and Ted Lasso. Yet they are both rated TV MA.
To give you a sense of the type of content that carries the TV MA rating, here is a list of some popular TV MA shows:
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- The Witcher
- Game of Thrones
- Ted Lasso
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
- Peaky Blinders
- Grey’s Anatomy
- The Walking Dead
- Squid Game
- Breaking Bad
- The Sopranos
- Sex and the City
Something else to consider is that all of these shows get a single blanket rating for the whole series, but episode to episode content can vary greatly.
TV-MA vs R
At first glance, TV-MA and R ratings appear to be similar, if not the same. Just look at the language used to describe them:
- TV-MA: This content is meant to be viewed by adults only and is not suitable for children under the age of 17. Programs with this rating may include crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, and graphic violence
- R: Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements
But there are really two differences between TV-MA and R ratings:
- The first is that “R” is part a movie ratings system, whereas “TV-MA” is part of a separate TV/broadcasting rating system.
- The second difference between TV-MA and R ratings, and the really the KEY difference, is that TV-MA is the MOST restrictive TV/broadcasting rating, whereas R is only the second most restrictive movie rating.
In the movie rating system, the most restrictive rating is called “NC-17”. NC-17 means “no one 17 and under admitted“. Regardless of whether or not they have an Adult Guardian with them.
So a TV show rated TV-MA basically includes both R and NC-17 rated content! That’s why I said above that “a TV MA show is basically the equivalent of an R rated movie, but usually worse”.
How to prevent children from watching TV MA show
These days, every TV comes with parental controls. Exactly how you implement those controls will largely depend on your TV make and model.
You can simply YouTube, “Parental Controls Samsung TV”, for example, to get the exact steps. But here are links out to some popular TV brands and their parental control guidance:
- Samsung TV parental controls
- LG TV parental controls
- Vizio TV parental controls
- Sony TV parental controls
- TCL TV parental controls
Essentially there are three levels at which you can apply parental controls to prevent children from watching TV MA content:
- Smart TV app store
- The app itself
Back in the day, before smart TVs came out, you really just had to worry about cable/broadcasting. Block TV-MA cable content, and you’re golden.
Nowadays smart TVs (and devices like Roku and Firestick) have hundreds of different apps that can be downloaded directly to the TV, and content can be streamed on-demand.
This means a lot more content, and a lot of new ways to view TV MA content. Luckily the new parental controls do a pretty good job accounting for this.
Most TVs allow you to lock down the app store, requiring a password to access certain (or all) apps, and you can even restrict the ability to download new apps.
And finally, you’ll likely want to restrict access WITHIN each app as well.
Take Netflix, for example. You can set parental controls for individual profiles. So if your son is 15 years old, and you don’t want him watching TV-MA content, set up his profile to block TV-MA content.
TV MA is a TV rating that means for “Mature Audiences” only. The content is intended for adults, and isn’t really suitable for children under the age of 17.
There will likely be bad language, explicit sexual activity and/or graphic violence.
TV MA is essentially the equivalent of an R rated movie, although TV MA can be “worse” than R in some cases.
Examples of TV MA shows include Game of Thrones and Ted Lasso.
If you’re considering using parental controls to block TV MA content, make sure you are putting restrictions at each of the following levels:
- Smart TV app store
- The app itself
Hopefully you found this helpful! Let me know in the comments section below.