Programming Regulations

We kicked off our summary of last week’s regulatory actions for broadcasters with the news of several millions of dollars in fines imposed on over 100 television stations for apparent “program-length commercials” in children’s programming.  Last week’s Notice of Apparent Liability, a unanimous decision by all four FCC Commissioners, stemmed from a Hot Wheels Super Ultimate Garage ad that was aired a total of 11 times during a Team Hot Wheels TV program which ran 8 times during November and December of 2018.  The same programming was provided by Sinclair Broadcast Group to both commonly owned stations and stations owned by other companies.  Two years ago, the same program was the subject of a $20,000 fine on a station in Baltimore, apparently when the issue was first discovered and reported to the FCC (see our article about that fine here).  Given the number of stations on which the proposed fines were imposed last week, and the number of issues discussed in the Notice, we thought that we should give the Notice a more extensive look.

First, it is worth discussing the FCC’s concerns with what they term “program-length commercials.”  The Commission has, for almost 30 years, had a policy against “program-length commercials” – programs that feature characters who are also featured in a commercial that runs during the program.  The FCC has been concerned that children may not perceive the difference between a program and a commercial that runs in that program if both feature the same characters.  The entire program can be perceived as a commercial for the product.  If the whole program is perceived as promoting the product, then the program would exceed the commercial limits in children’s programming as set by Congress and incorporated in Section 73.670 of the rules – 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.
Continue Reading A Closer Look at Multi-Million Dollar Proposed Fines for Program-Length Commercials in Children’s Television

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released additional public notices in connection with the upcoming September 28 deadline for submission of annual regulatory fees.

With so much focus on the upcoming regulatory fee deadline, broadcasters may well overlook another more imminent deadline – Thursday, September 15 is the deadline for broadcasters to have assured themselves that no buyer of program time on their stations is a foreign government or an agent of a foreign government.  As we wrote here, the NAB successfully obtained a court decision eliminating the obligation for broadcasters to verify that no buyer of program time is listed in the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act database or on the FCC’s database of foreign government video programmers.  However, the underlying obligation of licensees to obtain certifications from buyers of program time on their stations confirming that they are not a foreign government, or an agent of a foreign government, remains in place.

New agreements for the sale of program time should have, since March 15, contained representations from the program buyer that they are not a foreign government or a representative of a foreign government, and that no foreign government has paid the programmer to produce the programs or to place it on broadcast stations.  Programming provided to the station for free with the expectation that it will be broadcast should also be confirmed as not coming from a foreign government or an agent of a foreign government.  By this Thursday (September 15), stations need to verify that the providers of programming under agreements that were in existence before March 15 are not foreign governments or their agents.
Continue Reading Don’t Forget September 15 Deadline For Broadcasters to Assure That Buyers of Program Time Are Not Foreign Governments or Their Agents

As summer begins to wind down, just like the rest of the world, the FCC and other government agencies seem to pick up speed on long delayed actions.  Broadcasters can anticipate increased regulatory activity in the coming months.  For September, there are a few dates to which all broadcasters should pay attention, and a few that will be of relevance to a more limited group.  As always, pay attention to these dates, and be prepared to address any other important deadlines that we may have overlooked, or which are unique to your station.

All commercial broadcasters will need to pay attention to actions which will likely come in rapid fire in the next two weeks, setting the deadlines for payment of the Annual Regulatory Fees that must be paid before the October 1 start of the next fiscal year for the FCC.  Look for an Order very soon deciding on the final amounts for those fees.  That Order will be quickly followed by a Public Notice setting the payment dates and procedures.  Then watch for fact sheets from each of the Bureaus at the FCC.  The Media Bureau fact sheet will cover the fees to be paid by broadcasters.  Be ready to pay those fees by the announced September deadline, as the failure to pay on time brings steep penalties.
Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Reg Fees, Foreign Government Program Certifications, Final Chance to Claim Reimbursement for Repacking Expenses, Comments on ATSC 3.0 and FTC Advertising Inquiry, and More

Facebook will disable “new” political ads the week before this year’s November mid-term election (see its post on this policy here), just as many broadcast stations will be struggling with commercial inventory issues, trying to get last minute political ads on the air without having to dump all of their regular commercial advertisers who will be just starting to ramp up their commercial campaigns for the holiday season.  We’ve written previously about how the legal policies that govern Facebook and other online platforms are different than those that govern broadcast, local cable, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) political ad sales.  Many of the policies adopted by these online platforms could not be adopted by broadcasters, local cable and DBS companies.  In light of Facebook’s recent announcement and the upcoming election, we thought that we would recap some of our previous reviews of this issue.

In June 2021, we wrote about Facebook’s plans to end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other platform users.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – although it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year before, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230).
Continue Reading Facebook to Reject New Political Ads the Week Before the November Election – Why Broadcasters Can’t Do That

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau released a consent decree, including the payment of a $60,000 penalty, with an LPTV station

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • A bill was introduced in the US Senate proposing to prohibit any FCC or criminal action against a broadcaster who

With the end of summer upon us, we begin to look forward to the regulatory issues that will face broadcasters as we barrel toward the end of the year.  One date on many broadcaster’s minds is the date by which the annual regulatory fees will be due to be paid.  While the payment date is almost certainly going to be sometime in September, look for an FCC decision on the amount of those fees at some point in late August.  As we wrote in last week’s summary of regulatory actions (and in many before), the amount that broadcasters will pay remains a matter of dispute, so watch for the resolution of that dispute by September, as fees must be paid before the October 1 start of the FCC’s next fiscal year.

But many other dates of importance to broadcasters will occur well before the resolution of the regulatory fee issue.  August 1 is the deadline for full power television, Class A television, LPTV, and TV translator license renewal applications for stations in California.  As we have previously advised,  renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and TV translators).  Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time.  Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of Annual EEO Public File Reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees.  Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file.  Issues with the public file have already led to fines imposed on TV broadcasters during this renewal cycle.
Continue Reading August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Regulatory Fees, EEO Reports, Many Rulemaking Comment Dates, and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past  week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.