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Hunting the Elusive MPAA Rating Field in iTunes

I recently had a lightbulb moment in regards to the family iPad that we let our five-year-old son use for video entertainment around our home. Rather than having to remember to manually sync his current slate of favorite videos to the iPad, I would use the Home Sharing capabilities of the iPad’s Videos app to tap into our complete library of movies and TV shows. This would save me time, prevent heartbreak from our son upon realizing that Dad forgot to sync a cherished title, and free up space on our video-bloated iPad.

First, I ensured that appropriate parental controls were set on the iPad for restricting accessible movies and TV shows to just those with family-friendly ratings (found in Settings > General > Restrictions). Then, after turning on Home Sharing for videos (Settings > Video), I opened the Videos app, tapped the newly displayed Shared pane button at the top, selected our home’s master iTunes library… and was met by Louis C.K. Not exactly the family-friendly fare I was envisioning.

I could tell the iOS restrictions were working because several movies that we’d purchased from the iTunes Store with MPAA ratings stronger than G no longer appeared in the list, such as “Star Trek” (PG-13) and “Hot Fuzz” (R). (The MPAA rating, as bestowed upon films by the Motion Picture Association of America, is the industry standard to advise content suitability, and what you’ll see on just about every movie you see in the theater or
purchase through the iTunes Store).

However, movies that I had encoded myself from our DVD collection or purchased from other sources in an iTunes-compatible format (such as Louis C.K.’s “Live at the Beacon Theater”) were there for the watching by anyone — even with the most restrictive restrictions in place. Similarly, TV show episodes that I had encoded on my own and that didn’t include TV Parental Guidelines ratings (like the original BBC version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) were also displayed for viewing.

The easy solution to this would be to go into iTunes and modify the errant video files by entering the appropriate MPAA rating for movie files or TV Parental Guidelines ratings for TV show episodes. However, I was gobsmacked to discover (after hunting high and low through the Get Info metadata fields) that there’s no way to edit parental control ratings within iTunes. (There is a Ratings field, but this is used for assigning one to five stars to a video or music file to denote favorites in your library.)

In fact, the only way to determine if a video file in iTunes has been accorded a parental control rating is to view the Summary pane in the Get Info window (where the rating appears at the bottom of the left column of data), or to scan your videos using either the List or Album List views, where the rating is displayed to the right of the file’s name, still in the Name column. (If you’re in another view, such as Grid or Cover Flow, press Command-Option-3 to switch to List view or Command-Option-4 to switch to Album List view.)


I did a bit of research and found a few options in the Mac App Store that could do both encoding and metadata tagging in videos, such as iFlicks and Magic Media Marker. But because I prefer to do my video encoding with Handbrake, I settled on the well-regarded iDentify 2 shareware app from Justin
Pulsipher, as its sole purpose was tagging and I could try it for free before plunking down any cash. (While you can use the main tagging features of iDentify for free, a $9.95 donation adds a few features such as automatic file renaming and auto processing.)

While lightweight in size (it’s just 1.1 MB), iDentify is a powerful tool for managing video file metadata — but it’s restricted to just video files. If you’re interested in managing the metadata tagging in your music library, you’ll need a separate app such as Tagalicious or TuneUp. Oddly, I couldn’t find any apps that can swing both ways for video and music metadata editing.

If you’re using iDentify to add metadata to video files you’ve just encoded, I recommend using its default automatic lookup setting, which pulls tag data from three sources: The Movie DB for movies, The TVDB for TV shows, and tagChimp as a fallback. After a lookup is performed, all metadata — from title and description to genre and artwork and, yes, parental control rating — are automagically filled in. You can then adjust fields to suit your needs or add more data that was missed in the automatic lookup. When finished, click the Done Editing button to return to the file list view, then click Save to set the
metadata in the file. You can choose to add the file automatically to your iTunes library in iDentify’s preferences, or leave it unchecked to save that manual task for later.

iDentify does a good job of looking up metadata for movie files as long as the name of the file is close to the title of the movie. However, for some titles that have multiple versions (such as “Robin Hood”), you can add the correct title’s identifier from the IMDB Web site (just copy the portion of the URL that starts with “tt”, such as “tt0070608” for the Disney version of “Robin Hood”). For TV shows, it’s best to title encoded files with the season and episode numbers formatted as “S01E01”
(denoting season one, episode one) to get the best lookup returns from iDentify.

If you’re working on files that have already been added to your iTunes library, I recommend turning off the automatic lookup function (found in iDentify’s Lookup preferences under the General pane) as well as deselecting lookups for existing tags and artwork. This enables you to manually modify just the metadata that needs attention — such as parental control rating — without changing the carefully calibrated tags and artwork you’ve already put in place.

iDentify also enables you to open and edit multiple files. Add files by dragging them to the file list view from the Finder, or by clicking the Add File(s) button, Shift- or Command-selecting a set of files, and then clicking the Edit Tags button. Modify the metadata fields to taste, and save by pressing Command-S, or by returning to the file list view and clicking the Save File(s) button.

For my little project, I turned off the automatic lookup functions before opening the movie and TV show files I already had in my iTunes library, and then proceeded to apply my desired parental control ratings to the files either individually or in groups. Back on the iPad, I re-opened our main iTunes library from the Shared pane in the Videos app and found that the offending videos had indeed been correctly swept away by my selected iOS Restrictions settings.

iDentify isn’t perfect. I wish it could show more information in its file list view, and pressing Command-S suddenly closes you out of the file you’re working on (making you wonder if the work you put into editing your metadata was actually saved). But it’s a fairly easy way to get the correct metadata into new files you’ve encoded from your DVD library before adding them to your iTunes library, as well as bulk editing metadata for files already in your iTunes library. And, if you’re looking to make sure that your kids are safe from your Louis C.K. collection, it’s essential for adding MPAA and TV Parental Guideline ratings to ensure that your parental controls work as you want them to.

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