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Legal Drug Content in Music Video Programs Shown on Australian Television on Saturday Mornings

Rebecca Johnson, Emma Croager, Iain S Pratt, Natalie Khoo
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/ags102 119-125 First published online: 8 September 2012


Aims: To examine the extent to which legal drug references (alcohol and tobacco) are present in the music video clips shown on two music video programs broadcast in Australia on Saturday mornings. Further, to examine the music genres in which the references appeared and the dominant messages associated with the references. Methods: Music video clips shown on the music video programs ‘Rage (ABC TV) and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ (Channel [V]) were viewed over 8 weeks from August 2011 to October 2011 and the number of clips containing verbal and/or visual drug references in each program was counted. The songs were classified by genre and the dominant messages associated with drug references were also classified and analysed. Results: A considerable proportion of music videos (approximately one-third) contained drug references. Alcohol featured in 95% of the music videos that contained drug references. References to alcohol generally associated it with fun and humour, and alcohol and tobacco were both overwhelmingly presented in contexts that encouraged, rather than discouraged, their use. Conclusion: In Australia, Saturday morning is generally considered a children's television viewing timeslot, and several broadcaster Codes of Practice dictate that programs shown on Saturday mornings must be appropriate for viewing by audiences of all ages. Despite this, our findings show that music video programs aired on Saturday mornings contain a considerable level of drug-related content.


Alcohol consumption in Australia accounts for 5.5% of the burden of disease for males and 2.2% for females (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). Alcohol is associated with both chronic health problems and acute harm related to accident, injury and violence (World Health Organization, 2004). Young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harm, particularly when alcohol is combined with risky behaviours such as driving and unsafe sex. It has been estimated that between 1993 and 2002, 501 adolescents aged 14–17 years died in Australia as a result of alcohol-related causes, accounting for 13% of all deaths in that age group (Chikritzhs et al., 2004). A disturbing proportion of young Australians drink alcohol; the 2008 Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey found that 37.1% of 12–17 year olds had consumed alcohol in the past month (White and Smith, 2009). Tobacco smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. Smoking leads to a wide range of diseases, including many types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, chest and lung illnesses and stomach ulcers. It claims the lives of 15,500 Australians every year (Begg et al., 2007). People who start smoking young risk greater damage to their health; early smoking initiation is associated with heavier tobacco use than initiation later in life, and heavy users are at increased risk of experiencing tobacco-related health problems (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1994). More than 80% of smokers become addicted to nicotine as teenagers (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1994), and it is particularly concerning that in Australia 7.3% of young people aged 12–17 are considered current smokers (smoked in the past week) (White and Smith, 2009).

The literature suggests that the presence of alcohol and tobacco content in mass media has a significant impact on young people's norms, beliefs and behaviours around consumption (Atkin et al., 1983; Futch et al., 1984; Tucker, 1985; Aitken et al., 1988; Casswell et al., 1988; Grube and Wallack, 1994; Chen et al., 2006). Studies suggest relationships between listening to music and viewing music videos containing alcohol references and drinking behaviours in children and adolescents (DuRant et al., 1997; Robinson et al., 1998; Van den Bulck and Beullens, 2005; Mulder et al., 2009). Endorsement of alcohol use by celebrities, such as the musicians and actors who feature in music videos, and glamorizing or associating alcohol with humour may influence young people's acceptance of, and normative expectations in relation to, alcohol use (DuRant et al., 1997; Roberts et al., 2002; Gruber et al., 2005). Similarly, tobacco promotion in popular media is a significant contributor to the uptake of smoking by young people (Donovan et al., 2003; Glantz, 2003). For example, teenagers whose favourite stars smoke on screen are up to 16 times more likely to think favourably of smoking and are more likely to smoke than those whose favourite stars do not smoke (Tickle et al., 2001).

Program and content regulation

The timing and classification of television programs shown in Australia are governed by codes of practice. Free-to-air commercial broadcasters, subscription television broadcasters and the national public broadcaster (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC) are each subject to a different code of practice: respectively, the 2010 Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (Free TV Australia, 2011), 2007 Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice (Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, 2007) and the 2011 ABC Code of Practice (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2011). Each code outlines the levels of drug content that are acceptable for different program classifications, and some codes control the times at which programs of different classifications are aired. Saturday morning is generally considered a children's television viewing timeslot, and both the commercial and national broadcaster Codes of Practice dictate that programs shown on Saturday mornings must be appropriate for viewing by audiences of all ages.

Several studies have analysed drug content, including alcohol and tobacco content, in music videos, on television programs and in movies generally but few relate directly to the Australian context (DuRant et al., 1997; Roberts et al., 2002; Gruber et al., 2005; Primack et al., 2011). This study investigated the level of alcohol- and tobacco-related content shown in two music video programs aired on Saturday mornings in Australia.


This study examined two Australian music video programs: ‘Rage’ on free to air TV (ABC), and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ on subscription television (Channel V). ‘Rage’ is a ‘G’-classified (general viewing) program shown on Saturday mornings between 6:00 and 10:00. [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ is an MA15+-rated (mature audience) program also shown on Saturday mornings, between 8:00 and 10:30. ‘Rage’ was recorded using a personal video recorder, converted to MPEG format using video conversion software and then viewed using a computer. We did not have access to a subscription television service; however, the [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ program is posted on the Channel [V] website soon after it is aired. [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ was accessed online and viewed on a computer. Music videos were coded by two of the authors (R.J. and N.K.), who had participated in a small pilot run to ensure consistent interpretation of the criteria. Each broadcast was watched twice by both coders, and the coders were able to stop and replay the content. Research staff availability limited the timeframe for coding to a period of 8 consecutive weeks between August and October 2011.

Visual and verbal references to alcohol and tobacco were recorded. Visual references included images of the substance, images showing consumption of the substance or images of product brands or logos. Verbal references included lyrics related to substances, substance consumption or product brand or logos.

The coders identified the music genre and the dominant message associated with the references. Genres were determined using categories from Apple iTunes. Songs were assigned to one of the following music genres: pop, rock/alternative, hip-hop/rap, R&B/soul/blues or dance/house/electronic. Dominant messages that accompanied the drug references were classified into eight categories similar to those described by Roberts et al. (1999). Each of the eight message categories was further classified as ‘pro-use’ or ‘neutral’ or ‘anti-use’ (Table 1). Where video clips contained multiple messages, coders identified the single most frequent/dominant message in the video. Each music video was coded by two of the authors independently, after which the coding results were compared. An inter-coder reliability score of 96% was achieved. Where coding differences occurred, a third author, who was informed of the messages the primary coders identified, independently coded the video and made the final decision on the dominant message.

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Table 1.

Dominant messages associated with the eight message categories used to classify legal drug references in music videos


Each 4-h ‘Rage’ program aired an average of 60 music videos, and each two and a half hour [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ program aired 40 music videos. The [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ program was accessed via the [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ website; as some videos were unavailable, an average of 39 music videos per program were viewed.

In total, 792 music videos (‘Rage’ = 477, [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ = 315) were coded (‘views’). Out of the 792 views, 256 contained drug references (Table 2). As many of the videos were shown more than once, across different weeks or shows, there were 240 unique videos, of which 54 contained drug references (23%) (Table 2). This study presents both a snapshot of music video program content to which regular program viewers are exposed using the data collected on total views, and a sense of the extent to which drug content appears in music videos more generally, using the data collected on unique, individual videos.

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Table 2.

Total views and unique videos with drug references on ‘Rage’ and [V] ‘Music Video’ Chart over 8 weeks

Breakdown of alcohol/tobacco references

Views: For both programs, alcohol references occurred far more frequently than references to tobacco (Table 3). On ‘Rage’, 112 of 120 (93%) views containing drug references featured references to alcohol. References to tobacco were present in 29 (24%) views. On [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 131 of 136 (96%) views containing drug references featured alcohol and 30 (22%) contained tobacco references (Table 3).

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Table 3.

Views and unique videos containing drug references categorized by the type of reference and program

Unique videos: On ‘Rage’, 40 out of 44 (91%) unique videos containing drug references featured references to alcohol, and references to tobacco were present in 14 (32%) (Table 3). On [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 30 of 32 (94%) unique videos containing drug references featured alcohol and 7 (22%) featured tobacco (Table 3).

Visual versus verbal references

Both the cumulative and unique data show that alcohol was most commonly referred to through visual means.

Of the 112 views containing any alcohol reference shown on ‘Rage’, 64 (57%) contained visual references. Of the 131 music views containing alcohol references on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 66 (50%) contained visual references. Of the 40 unique videos containing alcohol references shown on Rage, 35 (87%) contained visual references to alcohol and 17 (43%) contained verbal references. Out of the 30 videos featuring alcohol references [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 24 (80%) were visual and 12 (40%) were verbal.

Tobacco references were also predominantly visual, both in the cumulative and unique data. Of the 29 views containing tobacco references on Rage, 18 (62%) contained visual references and of the 30 on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 22 (73%) were visual. Out of 14 unique videos featuring tobacco references on Rage, 11 (79%) were visual compared with 4 (29%) verbal. All the seven of the videos featuring tobacco content on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ contained visual references to tobacco, and two (29%) also featured verbal references.

Messages associated with drug references

The eight dominant messages that accompanied references to alcohol and tobacco were categorized as ‘pro-use’, ‘anti-use’ and ‘neutral’ (Table 4). The cumulative (view) data revealed that alcohol was generally presented alongside pro-use messages, with 93% of views featuring alcohol references that encouraged or promoted its use, compared with 7% that presented alcohol in a negative or neutral context (Table 4). [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ aired more music videos that associated alcohol with pro-use messages than ‘Rage’. On any given ‘Rage’ program, 14 out of the 60 (23%) views presented alcohol alongside pro-use messages, compared with 16 out of 39 views (41%) on any given [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ program. Across both programs, a majority (90%) of unique videos also featured pro-use messages in relation to alcohol, compared with 10% of videos that featured neutral or anti-use messages (Table 4).

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Table 4.

Breakdown of dominant messages (‘pro-use’, ‘anti-use’ and ‘neutral’) associated with alcohol and tobacco content in videos containing drug references

The majority of views featuring tobacco references (64%) were classified as ‘pro-use’; 31% were ‘neutral’ and 5% ‘anti-use’ (Table 4). There was no substantial difference in positive tobacco references between the two programs; on any given ‘Rage’ program watched during the 8-week period, three (5%) views contained pro-tobacco-use references, compared with two (5%) of videos on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ (Table 4). Of the unique videos containing tobacco references across both programs, 61% presented tobacco alongside pro-use messages, 22% contained neutral messages and 17% featured anti-use messages (Table 4).

Drilling down into the eight dominant messages reveals that ‘general positive’ messages about alcohol dominated the views containing alcohol references on both ‘Rage’ (38 of 112, 33.9%) and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ (52 of 131, 39.7%) (Table 5). Likewise, the unique videos containing alcohol content were largely represented in a ‘general[ly] positive’ manner (45% of unique videos on ‘Rage’ and 33% on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’) (Table 6). The cumulative and unique data both show that alcohol was also commonly associated with the ‘wealth/luxury’, ‘fun/humour/celebration’ and ‘sexual activity/appeal’ message categories (Tables 5 and 6). Neither program featured alcohol references in connection with messages about crime or violence.

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Table 5.

Views containing alcohol and tobacco references on ‘Rage’ and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’: messages accompanying references

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Table 6.

Unique videos containing alcohol and tobacco references on ‘Rage’ and [V] ‘Music’ Video Chart: messages accompanying references

The majority of the views containing tobacco references on the ‘Rage’ program promoted a ‘general[ly] positive’ message (21 of the 29, or 72%). On [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, 15 of the 30 (50%) views that contained tobacco references were classified with a ‘general positive’ message, and 12 (40%) were neutral (Table 5). Only four views across the two programs attached anti-use messages to tobacco use. Likewise, the majority of unique videos on ‘Rage’ and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ (64 and 43%, respectively) associate a ‘general[ly] positive’ message with tobacco content, and 21 and 29% (respectively) associate neutral messages with tobacco content (Table 6).

Genres associated with dominant messages

More than 90% of unique videos aired on ‘Rage’ containing drug references that were classified as pop (93.3%), rock/alternative (91.7%) and hip-hop/rap (100%) presented alcohol references alongside a ‘pro-use’ message (Table 8). On [V] ‘Music Video Chart’, all of the unique videos with drug references that were classified as rock/alternative, hip-hop/rap and R&B/soul accompanied alcohol references with pro-use messages and 92.3% of the pop videos (Table 7). The cumulative data, which reflect the number of views, reveal that the videos that present pro-use messages in relation to alcohol were the videos that were aired the majority of the time (Table 9). The only genre that presented alcohol references alongside anti-use messages was dance/electronic.

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Table 7.

Unique videos containing alcohol/tobacco references on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’: Genre and message classification

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Table 8.

Unique videos containing alcohol/ tobacco references on rage: genre and message classification

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Table 9.

Views containing alcohol/tobacco references on Rage and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’: Genre and message classification

The small numbers make it difficult to make out a pattern in the genre data in relation to tobacco references, but it appears that a majority of views of pop, rock/alternative and hip-hop/rap on both programs presented tobacco references alongside pro-use messages (Table 9).


This study shows a concerning level of drug content in two music video programs aired by the Australian national broadcaster and a subscription television service during Saturday morning timeslots. The proportion of music videos containing alcohol and tobacco references aired on [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ was slightly higher than on ‘Rage’, but the differences were not significant.

Saturday morning television is widely regarded as suitable for, and often directly catered to, viewing by children. The ABC Code of Practice mandates ‘G’ classification (general viewing) for programs shown on its channels between 6:00 and 10:00 on weekends, and describes ‘G’-rated programs as ‘suitable for children to watch on their own’. It also states that ‘whether or not the [G-rated] program is intended for children, the treatment of themes and other classifiable elements will be careful and discreet’ and in relation to drug use, a classifiable element, ‘the depiction of the use of legal drugs should be handled with care’.

One in every four videos viewed on ‘Rage’ contained a drug reference. Of the views containing references, 93% featured alcohol and 24% featured tobacco. The vast majority (91%) of views containing alcohol references presented them alongside pro-use messages; likewise the views containing tobacco references (56.7%). This clearly demonstrates that the classifiable drug use content in the ‘Rage’ program is neither ‘careful and discreet’ nor ‘handled with care’ and therefore breaches the ‘G’ classification.

ASTRA, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, does not regulate the timing of programs shown on the subscription television channels it represents. Therefore, Australian subscription television broadcasters are not required to show programs at age-appropriate viewing times, and as a result, content designed for adult viewing is available at all hours. The [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ program aired between 8:00 and 10:30 on Saturdays is classified MA15+ (Mature Audience, not suitable for people under 15). Indeed, the level of drug content in the program was in keeping with its MA15 + classification: almost half (43%) of all videos shown on the program contained alcohol or tobacco references, the majority of which encourage consumption. Although [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ is appropriately classified for audiences over 15, it is shown during a timeslot that is currently on most free-to-air channels, and certainly historically has been, a children's viewing time. We posit that parents are unlikely to be aware that programs with higher classifications than the ‘G’ classification can be shown on subscription television channels during the Saturday morning timeslot.

The literature reveals the powerful influence the presence of alcohol and tobacco in popular media has on children and adolescents' norms, beliefs and behaviours around alcohol and tobacco use. A considerable proportion of the videos shown on the music video programs studied contained drug references, and the majority of those promoted pro-use messages (There are also concerns about product placement by alcohol and tobacco companies in music videos, which have been the subject of complaint to the Australian alcohol advertising self-regulation scheme: see Fig. 1). This finding is consistent with those of previous studies, which found that alcohol is rarely associated with negative messages in popular media (DuRant et al., 1997; Gruber et al., 2005).

Fig. 1.

Concerns related to alcohol and tobacco product placement in music videos.

A significant proportion of music videos in this study—approximately one in five— associated alcohol use with fun, humour or celebration. This is a particularly insidious association as humour is attractive and appealing to children. Chen et al. (2005) found that among 10–17-year olds, the likeability of alcohol advertisements was strongly associated with the presence of humour and that likeability was associated with advertising effectiveness. Therefore, the extent to which humour is used in alcohol references in the music videos on ‘Rage’ and [V] ‘Music Video Chart’ is a matter of concern.

This study is not without limitations. By necessity, data were collected over a short timeframe of 8 consecutive weeks, and thus data collected may not be representative of the programs that air throughout the remainder of the year limiting the generalizability of the study. Further, repeated videos are a standard feature of chart-countdown music video programs, as songs generally only move a few places up or down popularity charts from week to week. Collecting data over consecutive weeks therefore meant including data on a number of repeat videos, and the authors acknowledge that reporting on cumulative data collected over a short timeframe may have allowed a small number of videos on high rotation to skew the study outcomes. The value of reporting on this cumulative data is that it gives a sense of the program content to which regular viewers are exposed. Data on unique videos are presented alongside the cumulative data in order to understand the nature of the drug content and the extent to which it appears in music videos more generally, although the small number of unique videos is also an acknowledged limitation. A final limitation to note is that televized music video programs are not the sole source of children's access to music videos; children may be exposed to music videos at other times and via the internet.

Children who regularly watch music video programs on Saturday mornings may be exposed to a considerable amount of alcohol and tobacco content, much of which is presented in a way that encourages use, making it a public health concern. The presence of alcohol and tobacco content in mass media has an impact on young people's perceptions and behaviour. This study reveals that despite its code of practice clearly dictating that Saturday morning program content must be suitable for general viewing, the Australian national broadcaster offers a program with content that is substantially similar to the MA15 + subscription broadcaster program. Action to rectify this anomaly is required. Further, parents should be educated on the extent to which legal drug content is sanctioned in programs aired on television on Saturday mornings in Australia.

Conflict of interest statement. None declared.


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