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.

As we wrote in several of our recent weekly summaries of regulatory issues for broadcasters, the FCC released a Public Notice the week before last announcing that regulatory fees must be submitted by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 28. This public notice set the deadline for the payment of fees established in the FCC’s Report and Order released just before Labor Day, which resolved objections to the higher fees that had been proposed for broadcasters by reducing those proposed fees somewhat (while still raising broadcaster’s fees on average about 8% over fees paid in prior years).  Since the Public Notice setting the fee payment deadline, the FCC has been busy issuing numerous notices, providing guides, and launching web pages with information about the fees and the procedures for paying those fees.

A notice that should be reviewed by all broadcasters owing fees is one issued on Friday when the FCC released another Public Notice setting the specifics for payment of the fees.  This notice details the payment process and requires that all payments be made through the FCC’s CORES database.  The notice also states that payments can only be made by credit cards, VISA or Mastercard debit cards, ACH transfers or wire transfers.  No cash or checks will be accepted.
Continue Reading More on FCC Regulatory Fees Due on September 28 – Public Notices on Payment Procedures, Deadlines, Amounts, and Waivers

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.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill to repeal all broadcast ownership limitations including the radio and television local ownership rules (see the draft bill, the Local News and Broadcast Media Preservation Act, here, and the Senator’s press release, here).  As we have noted before (see, for instance, our article here), the FCC is currently considering changes to the radio ownership rules but the proposals, first advanced in late 2018, remain stalled in the current FCC seemingly because of its current political deadlock with two Republicans and two Democrats.  The current pending proposal at the FCC (see our summary here) is also considering allowing combinations of two of the top 4 TV stations in a market based on certain defined parameters (such combinations being allowed now only when justified based on an ill-defined case by case public interest analysis).  The Paul legislation would essentially pre-empt this review by abolishing the FCC’s ownership rules.  Of course, being introduced so late in the Congressional session with no other declared political support, the bill has little chance of becoming law in this session of Congress.

The Paul legislation is designed to allow broadcasters to compete with big tech companies that have seriously eroded the advertising and audience shares of broadcast stations over the last decade (see our article here).  According to Paul’s press release, his bill “would give local broadcasters and newspapers much-needed relief from outdated government restrictions that are currently threatening their ability to succeed in an evolving media environment.”  As the broadcast media is the only media subject to such ownership restrictions, many have argued that, for a truly level playing field in today’s media landscape, a significant relaxation of the rules is warranted.
Continue Reading Senator Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Repeal Broadcast Ownership Limits and Allow Joint Negotiations with Big Tech Companies

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

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 announced that regulatory fees must be submitted by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 28. In addition, the

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.

  • On September 2, the FCC released a Report and Order (“R&O”) and Notice of Inquiry adopting the regulatory fee schedule

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

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.

  • Revisions to the pending Journalism Competition and Preservation Act were released to the public this week (revised draft bill