January 15, 2018

Beware of Graphic Content for HBO Go Subscribers – Parental Controls and More

The well-known premium cable company HBO is notorious for its adult-themed television shows and movies. For any HBO Go subscriber, it’s important to know what content is out there and how to prevent unintentional exposure to sexually explicit and exploitative material.

The HBO Go home streaming service does provide parental controls that can be set by the account holder.

There are 2 different options for controlling content for kids. One is to require a PIN for certain maturity levels, determined by industry standard rating systems such as the MPAA. Another option is to turn on “kid’s lock”, which limits all browsing and viewing to shows in the kid’s section.

There are some drawbacks, however.

One is that currently, HBO by default does not provide different profiles unless your designated TV provider does. This means that whenever you wish to watch content that is not from the kid’s section, you must lock and unlock the profile. This inconvenience may deter some from setting up parental controls or may result in user error where parents forget to turn the controls back on.

Second, if your HBO account does have separate profiles, any tech-savvy kid could easily switch between profiles to access more mature content. Learn more about HBO’s parental controls here.

As a result of this, young audiences could be easily exposed to the graphic sexual content that is characteristic of HBO original series. To show you just how serious this problem may be, NCOSE researchers looked at several popular HBO show pilot episodes on the filtering service VidAngel to see exactly what sort of content was being shown. 100% of the pilots reviewed were rated TV-MA and had graphic nudity. Many featured storylines and scenes with dangerous sexual behaviors such as rape, domestic violence, and prostitution.

We discuss some of this content in detail below.

TRIGGER WARNING: Brief descriptions of sexually explicit activities below.

As we probably all know, Game of Thrones is the wildly popular HBO series. While this show is rated for mature audiences only, the prominence of it on social media and other outlets means young people are at a significant risk of watching without parental supervision. In the pilot episode alone, we found:

  • 2 tags for sexual references or innuendo.
  • 13 tags for sex.
  • 25 tags for nudity.

Going into more detail, some specific tags were “a woman performs oral sex on a man”, “a man rapes a woman”, and “a man undresses a woman, exposing her breasts and buttocks”. Clearly, we can see disturbing content right from the first episode of the series.

Big Little Lies is another popular HBO series that was renewed for a second season. In the first episode, VidAngel tagged “a man bites a woman and makes a sexually suggestive comment”, “a woman and a man have sex”, and “a woman’s breasts are seen”. In addition to these tags, the plotline centers around rape and marital abuse, shown onscreen in several instances.

The Wire is considered by some to be one of the best television shows ever made. However, the pilot episode shows just how dangerous for young, impressionable viewers with access to an HBO account. In the pilot, there are:

  • 8 tags for sexual references, including “a man talks about sexual pictures”, and “a man makes a sexual threat towards another man”.
  • 12 tags for immodesty. All were female examples and stemmed largely from an extended strip club scene.
  • 9 tags for sex.
  • 6 tags for nudity, including “a woman exposes her buttocks and breast while dancing”, and “nude women dance on a stage”.

The long scenes involving nudity and sex include exploitative activities such as stripping and pornography, further objectifying the female body in the media.

The most recent show on this list is Sharp Objects, a limited miniseries that premiered the summer of 2018 on HBO. In the pilot episode, we see 14 counts of sex, 8 counts of nudity, 2 counts of sexual assault, and 2 counts of sexual references or innuendo. Being more specific, some examples are:

  • “a teenage girl discovers pornographic photos”
  • “fetish photos show a man and 2 women engaged in oral sex and sexual intercourse”
  • “a man references rape”
  • “a woman’s buttocks are visible”

HBO, listed on our 2017 and 2018 Dirty Dozen List, is clearly not afraid to produce content that both normalizes sexual harm and degrades women.

Take action by learning about HBO Go’s parental controls, and by taking action here to email HBO executives, asking to fix these problems:

Sommer Porter

Copywriter

Sommer Porter is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University, earning her
bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in International Development. She is
passionate about solving important world issues such as sexual exploitation through
non-profit work and advocacy. She has worked with several non-profits, including
spending three months conducting a program evaluation for an organization based
in Bulgaria. She now works as a copywriter at the National Center on Sexual
Exploitation and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in the future.

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