The Commission recently issued an Order fining a Kansas broadcaster $4000 in connection with a station contest – "Guess What is in the Santa Sack."  The licensee was faulted for not giving away the prize to someone who correctly guessed what was in the sack, and for also for not broadcasting the rules of the content on the air.  Obviously, a broadcaster must comply with its contest rules and give away a prize as promised.  In fact, as the winner had to complain to the FCC in order to get her prize, broadcasters should know that, when a listener complains, they should investigate immediately, give away the prize if warranted, and avoid the FCC fine that might result if the listener does not get satisfaction and has to ask for the FCC’s involvement.  This case also reminds broadcasters that the material terms of any contest must be announced on the air on a periodic basis.

According to the FCC rules, "material terms" include those factors which define the operation of the contest and which how a listener can participate in the contest. Although the material terms may vary  depending upon the exact nature of the contest, they will generally include: how to enter or participate; eligibility restrictions; entry deadline dates; whether prizes can be won; when prizes can be won; the extent, nature and value of prizes; the basis for valuation of prizes; time and means of selection of winners; and/or tie-breaking procedures.   The broadcaster can make a good faith judgment as to how often the terms need to be broadcast .  They do not need to be broadcast every time the contest is mentioned, but should be aired often enough so that listeners can become familiar with the rules.  The complete rules should also be readily available to listeners.  We suggest that they be on the station’s website, and hard copies should also be available at the main studio and at the business locations of any principal sponsors where contest entries can be made.  As we’ve written before, this is the year of the contest gone wrong, so broadcasters must be vigilant to avoid legal problems.