Last week, the FCC fined yet another broadcaster for violations of its contest rules, issuing a fine of $4,000 to a station that had not disclosed to its listeners all of the material terms of a contest that it conducted on the air. In this case, the station promised a give-away of three cars, but in reality it was only awarding to winners a two-year lease for the cars, not actual ownership of the vehicles. This is another in a series of recent fines for contests, so stations should be aware of the attention that the FCC is giving these issues. And this case should again remind broadcasters that they must disclose any practices that may affect the odds of winning of potential contestants – including any benefits that certain listeners, like members of loyal listeners clubs, might get that would improve their chances of winning a contest (see our post here on the Commission’s discussion of what are the material terms of a contest).
I recently attended a seminar put on by a noted broadcast program consultant, who was running through a series of great ideas for broadcasters to better connect with and retain their audience. In giving suggestions about how to build up a database of loyal listeners with whom the station could be in regular contact, the consultant suggested that stations tell their loyal listeners that they will get advance notification of the time to call in for certain station contests and give-aways, i.e. they would be alerted in advance when the station was getting ready to do a contest that would award a prize to a caller at a certain time. While that certainly may provide an enticement to join the listener club, if that advance notice is not revealed to all potential contestants – both in written rules and, more importantly, in those rules that are announced on the air – those contestants who are not members of the listener club may well complain about the conduct of the contest. Reveal all aspects of the contest that might affect the odds of winning or the ease of entry – or, in addition to the prize given to the contest winner, the FCC may be getting its own award – in the form of a fine.