Video content on the internet could receive certificate 18-style classifications from film censors under plans submitted to the government yesterday.
The proposals could see web videos rated for language, violence, sex and themes in the same way as films, videos and DVDs.
The British Board of Film Classification said the huge growth of online video content risked making the regulation of old media redundant as more and more people get access to video over the Internet.
Internet video has mushroomed in recent years, with the spread of broadband and content-streaming technologies making downloading high-quality footage easier.
The video site YouTube sees 35,000 new clips added and 30m clips downloaded every day, while it would take almost 500 years to watch all the content currently indexed by Blinkx, which claims to be the largest online video search engine.
Sue Clark, a spokeswoman for the BBFC, said the government should be looking at ways of providing information to online viewers about the sort of material they were being exposed to.
"We don't want to go down the route of cutting and banning things and blocking sites, but a lot of the content that's out there on the Internet is not something the majority of people would want to view," she said.
"If there's some sort of standardised labelling system that people understand, then they know that it's material they can trust."
She cited the example of Terrorists, Killers and Middle East Wackos, a compilation of video clips of actual killings and terrorist attacks.
The compilation cannot be distributed on video or DVD in the UK because it is believed to contravene the Obscene Publications Act, but it is freely available on the Internet through file-sharing sites.
An Ofcom report last month found that one-fifth of the electronic media seen by children is viewed over the Internet. The study found that eight to 15-year-olds spent more time on the web than they did listening to the radio or watching DVDs and videos.
The BBFC - which administers the ratings system for films, videos and DVDs - wrote to the department of culture, media and sport last month, asking the government to consider a system of classification.
It said that the most likely scenario would see them advising companies providing video content on what material would be acceptable to viewers.
The board has already carried out similar advisory work with Vodafone over mobile content, and has also consulted with the cable film channel Front Row.
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