Understanding the Classification System: New Zealanders' Views

Understanding the Classification System: New Zeala...
30 Jun 2016

We commissioned Colmar Brunton to carry out a survey of the public’s views about, and understanding of, the classification system - and about New Zealanders' changing media use habits.

This representative survey of 1,000 people found that New Zealanders continue to have a high level of trust in the classification system, despite a rapidly changing entertainment media environment. This research follows on from similar research conducted in 2006 and 2011. The results show:

  • 69% think the Classification Office is doing a 'good' or 'excellent' job
  • 73% think classifications are 'about right' – not too strict or too lenient
  • 92% think classifications are important when choosing entertainment media for children and teens


The specific objectives of the 2016 research are twofold:

  • To update the 2006 and 2011 research to understand the changes in New Zealanders’ perceptions and understanding of the OFLC and the classification system, and
  • To gain a more detailed understanding of how New Zealanders are viewing movies, television shows, and video games in a rapidly changing media environment.


An online survey of 1,000 New Zealanders aged 18 years and over was carried out between 29 March and 21 April 2016.

Sampling and fieldwork

An online methodology is appropriate for this survey given the need to replicate the 2011 study. This methodology is also ideal as it allows for the presentation of images of classification labels.

Respondents were randomly selected from Colmar Brunton’s online panel and invited to take part in the survey. Colmar Brunton maintains an online panel of more than 220,000 New Zealanders, recruited from both offline and online sources (including through random telephone surveys, social media, advertising and the Fly Buys loyalty programme). Panellists are adults aged 18 years and over, and are well distributed on key demographic variables such as age, gender, income and location.

The survey is intended to provide an overall picture representative of the New Zealand public’s views, and the final sample is representative of New Zealand by age, gender, ethnic group and location. Not all households have internet access in New Zealand (77% of households had internet access at the 2013 Census), and online panels do not include every New Zealand household, so the survey cannot be said to be truly representative of all groups. Having said this, we are confident that the results provide a reasonably good picture of overall trends and changes since 2011. Detailed respondent profiles can be found in Appendix A.

The maximum sampling error for a sample size of 1,000 is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence interval (assuming simple random sampling).

Note that the research in 2011 used a larger sample of 2000 New Zealanders aged 18 years and over. The maximum sampling error for a sample size of 2,000 is +/- 2.2% at the 95% confidence interval (assuming simple random sampling).

Questionnaire design

The questionnaire content remained very similar to the 2006 and 2011 research; however, we included new questions this year to measure streaming media use, online content, and file sharing sites. The average survey duration was 13 minutes. A copy of the questionnaire can be found in Appendix B.


The final data has been weighted to align it with Statistics New Zealand population counts for region (Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, other North Island, other South Island) and age (18 to 29, 30 to 59, and 60 years and over) by gender. It should be noted that unweighted bases are presented with each figure or table in this report. This gives an indication of the actual number of respondents who answered each question.

Significance testing

Any differences highlighted in this report are significant at the 95% confidence level, unless specifically stated otherwise. Where possible, results are compared to the 2011 study to observe changes over time.

Percentages calculations and rounding

Please note that occasionally the percentages in the charts and tables do not add to the net percentages presented elsewhere in the report. This is because each percentage in the charts and tables has been rounded to a whole number. When calculating the net percentages, only the final result has been rounded to a whole number. This reduces the influence of rounding error in the final result.

Key Results

Changing media use in New Zealand

This research represents one of the more comprehensive surveys of media use frequency in New Zealand – revealing differences in how movies, television shows and games are accessed across a variety of platforms. The 2016 survey acknowledges technological convergence by including broadcast and online content for the first time. Use of classifications by online providers varies – a number of providers use OFLC classification labels, while others use alternative classifications. Broadcasters do not use OFLC classifications.

Since 2011 there have been significant changes in people’s use of entertainment media – the most obvious being the move from physical formats like DVDs to online video on demand2 services.

  • Almost nine in ten people (87%) watch television shows at least weekly – whether broadcast, online or on DVD – and 65% watch feature films at least weekly.
  • Free-to-air broadcast television is the main platform through which people watch feature films and television shows, with 76% watching at least once a week.
  • Use of video on demand including online catch-up services (such as TVNZ OnDemand) and paid streaming services (such as Netflix) is now common, with around half (47%) of New Zealanders watching movies or television shows on a video on demand platform at least once a week.
  • The proportion of people who go to the cinema at least once a month has remained steady since 2011 at 19%.
  • Just 17% of New Zealanders watch movies or television shows on DVD/Blu-ray at least weekly – a significant decline since 2011.
  • Frequent use of pirated movies and television shows is relatively uncommon, with 16% of New Zealanders watching pirated content at least once a week. Video game piracy is rare, with just 2% of New Zealanders playing pirated games weekly.
  • The overall proportion of people playing video games remains consistent with 2011, with 42% playing at least once per week. The most common way of accessing games is from a mobile app store.

The use of entertainment media by children (as reported by adults) appears to have changed significantly since 2011. In particular:

  • Primary and secondary aged children are significantly less likely to be frequent players of video games.
  • As with adults, the use of DVDs and videos has significantly declined across all age groups for children.
  • The proportion visiting the cinema at least once every six months has increased significantly across all age groups.
  • Half of secondary school aged children watch movies and shows online at least once a week.

Knowledge and perception of the Office of Film and Literature Classification

The majority of New Zealanders (73%) have heard of the OFLC (down from 80% in 2011 and 94% in 2006). Of those who are aware of the Office a majority (85%) are able to spontaneously name at least one of its functions (compared with 84% in 2011).

To find out how New Zealanders perceive the Office, respondents were given a short description of the OFLC’s role, and then asked how well they thought the Office was performing its duties.

  • The majority (69%) of New Zealanders believe the OFLC is doing a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ job. This is a decline from 75% in 2011 – however the decline coincides with an increase in people saying they don’t know enough about the OFLC to have an opinion, rather than an increase in people thinking the OFLC is doing a only a fair or poor job.
  • Of those who knew enough about the Office to say, 82% believe the OFLC is doing a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ job.

Understanding of classifications

Knowledge of classification labels is generally good, with the majority (57%) of respondents correctly defining at least six of the seven classification labels shown in the survey. On average, there has been a 4% drop in understanding of individual labels since 2011 (down from an average of 82% in 2011 to 78% in 2016).

  • The great majority of respondents correctly identified the meaning of the G label (89%), the R18 label (91%), and the R16 label (87%).
  • Eighty-three percent of respondents correctly identified the meaning of the R13 label, down from 88% in 2011, and 76% correctly identified the meaning of the PG label, down from 80% in 2011.
  • Understanding of the M label remained relatively low, but stable, at 60%.
  • A majority (57%) correctly identified the meaning of the rarely used RP13/RP16 labels, down from 63% in 2011.

Overall, the 2016 survey shows a decrease in understanding of six out of the seven classification labels. Lower general understanding of labels this year may relate to a significant decrease in frequency of watching DVDs and videos, which has historically been one of the main contexts for noticing and using the labels. Another factor in the decline in understanding may be the proliferation of alternative labelling systems for movies, television shows and games, particularly in the online space.

Perceptions of the classification system

Most New Zealanders are happy with the classification system and say the system is ‘about right’, rather than too strict or too lenient.

  • Seventy-three percent of New Zealanders think the system is ‘about right’ (an increase from 69% in 2011).
  • This increase coincides with a decrease in people saying the system is too lenient (down from 19% in 2011 to 16% in 2016).
  • Consistent with both the 2006 and 2011 surveys, the primary reason for believing the system is too lenient relates to the depiction of violence (40%).
  • Other reasons for thinking the system is too lenient relate mainly to concerns about language (23%) and sexual content (22%), or the belief that the age of restriction is set too low for some content (20%).
  • A small minority (9%) believe the classification system is too strict. Those who perceive the system as too strict say that there are too many restrictions (19%), the age limit is set too high (15%), and that it should be up to the parents to decide (11%).

We asked people whether they believe children under the age of 16 years should be able to view R16 movies or play R16 games so long as they have parental supervision or consent. The majority believe that this should not be allowed, however, the proportion saying this has declined since 2016 (films: from 66% in 2011 to 60% in 2016, games: from 74% in 2011 to 68% in 2016).

Use of the classification system

As seen in the 2011 survey, the classification system is more important when making decisions about films, shows and games for children and young people than for adults themselves.

  • When selecting for themselves, 30% of adults rate the classification as 7 out of 10 or higher, with 42% rating descriptive notes at the same level.
  • When selecting for children and young people, 92% rated the classification as 7 to 10/10, with 91% rating descriptive notes at the same level.

The proportion rating classifications and descriptive notes at least 7 out of 10 has remained steady since 2011. However a significantly smaller proportion rated the importance of classifications and descriptive notes as 10/10 when choosing for children or young people (from 65% in 2011 to 48% in 2016 for classifications, and 58% to 45% for descriptive notes). The 2016 figures are now more aligned to those seen in 2006, though there is no extra analysis available to explain the large rise and fall in importance over the three surveys.

Again, this lower importance may relate to a decrease in frequency of hiring DVDs and videos, which has historically been one of the main contexts for noticing and using the labels.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018