broadcast of contest rules

The FCC yesterday agreed to modernize its contest rules, allowing broadcasters to publicize the material terms of a contest that is conducted by a station through posting those rules on an Internet website, rather than requiring that the material rules be read on the air often enough so that a listener is likely to have heard them. The FCC’s order does impose obligations that the website location be announced on the air and that the site be accessible to everyone, but the changes, once they go into effect, will be a relief to many broadcasters who have had so much trouble in recent years with the current rules requiring on-air disclosure of a contest’s material terms (see, for instance, the many fines that have been issued to broadcasters for violations of these rules, about which we wrote here, here and here).

When these new rules go into effect (after approval by the Office and Management and Budget after a Paperwork Reduction Act review – an exercise that the FCC must go through for all new rules with any paperwork requirements even though it would seem to be a formality here where the rules clearly work to reduce the burden on broadcasters), a broadcaster will be able to satisfy the requirement to disclose the material rules of a contest either by continuing the old practice of reading the material rules on the air, or by posting those rules to an accessible website, and publicizing the Internet location of those rules on the air. The website hosting the rules can either be the station website or some other site, but the rules state that the site must be available to everyone who visits it without having to register to use the site or to pay any sort of fee to access the site. The on-air announcement about the website does not need to give the exact URL of the page on which the rules can be found, as long as the announcement is specific enough so that a listener will be able to find the rules (e.g. by saying something like “go to the K-100 website, k100.com, and click on the ‘contest’ tab”). The FCC also makes clear that, if a station is sending its audience to the station’s homepage to find the contest rules, that there should be a tab, link or other clearly identified location on the homepage to make clear where listeners should go to find the contest rules.
Continue Reading FCC Revises Broadcast Contest Rules – Allows Disclosure of Material Rules on the Internet

In an article posted on the FCC’s blog yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler listed four actions that would soon be coming out of the FCC to address broadcast issues. For TV, these include looking at what constitutes “good faith negotiations” in the retransmission consent context, and whether to do away with the FCC’s network nonduplication protection rule. For radio, the long-delayed AM revitalization docket will apparently soon be considered by the FCC. And, finally, the FCC may modernize the contest rules for all broadcasters by allowing more online disclosure of contest rules. What are these proceedings all about?

The retransmission consent proceeding grows out of Congress’ adoption of STELAR, which authorized the continued retransmission of broadcast signals by satellite television operators. As part of that legislation, which we summarized here, the FCC was directed to start a proceeding to determine whether it should adopt new rules to define what constitutes “good faith negotiation” of retransmission consent agreements. There has already been significant lobbying on this issue by both sides. Right now, good faith negotiation really has not been an area where the FCC has intervened beyond using its bully pulpit to urge parties to retransmission consent disputes to reach a deal. It is commonly recognized that failing to deal with a MVPD at all would be a violation of the good faith standard, but many MVPDs now want the FCC to become more involved, putting limits on TV channel blackouts, especially just before big televised events (like the Super Bowl or the Oscars), limiting the blackout of web-based programming to subscribers of an MVPD that is involved in a dispute, limiting the bundling of Big 4 network programs with programming from other channels provided by the TV broadcaster, and similar limits. The Chairman’s blog is short on specifics, but does suggest that, while some specific prohibitions may be suggested, the FCC would also be able to look at the totality of the circumstances to determine if a broadcaster and an MVPD were negotiating in good faith (note that these rules apply to broadcast retransmission consent negotiation, not those between MVPDs and cable channels not shown on broadcast TV).
Continue Reading FCC Chairman Details Issues Coming Soon for Broadcasters – Review of Retransmission Consent, Network Nonduplication, AM Improvements, and Contest Rules

We recently wrote about the proposed changes in the FCC’s rules about station-conducted contests, here.  The FCC has proposed that much of the required disclosure about the material terms of these contests be allowed to be conducted online, rather than having to be announced on-air often enough so that listeners to the station are

Having broadcast all of the material rules of a station’s contest was not enough to avoid a $10,000 fine for having misleading rules – when there were errors in the contest deadlines posted on a station’s website and in emails sent to contest participants. In an FCC Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a fine for a North Carolina FM station, the Commission also upped the fine from the usual $4000 base fine for a contest violation to $10,000, because the corporate parent of the licensee had been hit with two other fines for contest violations (one in 2009 and one almost two decades ago, in 1994) and as the company had very significant revenues in the past year.

The contest was called “Carolina Cuties”, where contestants posted pictures of their babies on the station’s website, the winning picture to be selected by a vote of station listeners.   The station’s on-air announcements properly stated that the voting could continue through September 5 of last year, with the winner announced on September 6. But, on the website, during a week at the end of August, it was stated that the winner would be selected on September 4.  This was later updated to say that the voting deadline was September 4, but correctly stating that the prize would be awarded on the 6th.   An email to contestants also used the September 4 voting deadline date. Votes were in fact taken through September 5, as announced on the air. Nevertheless, as the website and emails stated that the voting deadline was September 4, the Commission determined that the station contest was not conducted “substantially as announced or advertised,” and proposed to levy the fine.


Continue Reading $10,000 FCC Fine for Failure to Follow Contest Rules – On-Air Rules Were Right, But Online Rules Were Wrong

In recent years, the FCC has been to aggressively enforcing a policy requiring broadcasters to announce all material rules of a contest on the air enough times for a reasonable listener to hear the announcements.  This past week, there was yet another case where this policy was enforced, resulting in a $4000 fine to a broadcaster.  While the FCC continues to enforce this policy, at least one broadcaster has reportedly decided that a fine for not having broadcast of the material rules of a contest is not justified, and is apparently ready to take the FCC on in Court in a case where the FCC tries to enforce a fine issued several years ago.

The newest fine involved a station in Cleveland, which ran a contest called "Who Said That" where a clip of the voice of a sports figure was played on the air.  The first person to be able to identify the speaker won a prize.  Apparently, if no prize was awarded, a new prize was added each week until the voice was identified, when the winner would get all of the accumulated prizes.  In this case, the station ran an announcement about the rules regularly until the station aired a clip that was not identified for some time.   As the clip remained unidentified over the course of many weeks, and then many months, the station apparently became less rigorous about announcing the rules.  But, more importantly to the FCC, the station did not announce on the air all of the prizes that had accumulated, nor did it announce that some of the prizes had become unavailable and had been replaced over time by prizes of what the station considered to be of an equivalent value.  As the station had not announced the "extent, nature and value of the prizes," the FCC found the station to be in violation – even though the right to substitute prizes of equal value was contained in the written rules published by the station.


Continue Reading FCC Fines Another Broadcaster For Not Announcing All Rules of a Contest – While One Broadcaster Protests

In two decisions released in the last two weeks, the FCC fined two radio stations $4000 each for perceived violations of its contest rules.  The first decision was based on a perceived ambiguity in the contest rules that did not make clear in broadcasts and in written rules that there would be only one winner in a contest.  In the second, the FCC faulted the licensee for not giving the prize away within 30 days of the contest end.  Both cases demonstrate the seriousness with which the FCC seems to take contest rules, especially the need for disclosure of all material terms to listeners, both in over-the-air announcements (see our post here on the need to broadcast the material terms of a contest) and in the written rules governing the contest.  Seemingly, ambiguities will be construed against the licensee and any material parts of the contest, including when the prize will be delivered must be clear the contestants.

In the first case, The Commission found that the licensee had not made clear in its on-air announcements and in its written rules that there would be only one prize awarded in the contest.  When one closely reads the case, what seems to come through most clearly is that the Commission is expecting licensees to document carefully that they have clearly provided the material rules of the contest on the air, sufficiently so that a reasonable listener would be aware of those rules.  In this case, the licensee was unable to document how often its announcements providing the rules were broadcast, or to conclusively say if they had ever been broadcast at all.  The contest was to give away a garage full of prizes, so it would seem that the nature of the contest itself made clear that there was going to be only one winner.  But the Commission concluded that there were not enough unambiguous statements that there would be but a single winner – thus prompting the fine.


Continue Reading Ambiguous Contest Promotional Announcements and Slow Award of Prize Each Cost Radio Stations $4000 FCC Fine

In three recent cases, the FCC revisited the issue of broadcast contest rules – fining stations for not following the rules that they set out for on-air contests, and reiterating that the full rules of any contest need to be aired on the station (see our previous post on this issue here).  The most recent case also made clear that a broadcast station’s contests that may be primarily conducted on its web site are still subject to the FCC’s rules if any mention of the contest is made on the broadcast station.  Thus, even though the contest itself may be conducted on the website, with entries being made there and prizes being first announced on the site, if the station uses its broadcast signal to direct people to the site to participate in the contest or otherwise promote it, the broadcaster must announce all of the rules on the air.

In one case, a listener called a station with what she believed to be the correct answer to a question that needed to be answered to win a prize.  The listener gave the answer, only to be asked a second unexpected question that she did not answer correctly.  The next day, she heard another listener call in, answer the original question in the same way that she did – and win the prize without ever even being asked the second question.  When the first listener complained, station employees agreed that the second question was not part of the rules, but did nothing to correct their mistake until after the listener filed her complaint with the FCC.  The Commission fined the station $4000 for failing to follow the contest rules and for failing to fully publicize all of the material terms of the contest on the air. 


Continue Reading Broadcast Station Contests – Announce the Full Contest Rules and Follow Them