Children's Programming and Advertising

The advertising to children of food deemed unhealthy has been the subject of government concern for many years.  We wrote about the efforts of then-Senator Brownback to limit such ads – either by voluntary industry action or by government regulation.  These concerns led to the formation of a public-private task force to come up with voluntary actions to limit advertising unhealthy foods to children.  The FTC this week released a draft of that report – proposing prohibitions on advertising most unhealthy food to children that would be in place by 2016 (with certain additional restrictions becoming effective 5 years later).  These guidelines would apply not only to broadcast advertising, but also to marketing on the Internet and in many other media.  While the report talks about voluntary industry guidelines, the NY Times quotes some as asking just how voluntary such guidelines really would be – asking if the government might not step in to mandate compliance if industry was unsuccessful (see the Times article here, subscription may be required).  Comments on the FTC proposals are due on June 13, 2011.

The guidelines published by the FTC ask many questions about how to define what foods are considered unhealthy, and also about whether the timeline of 2016 for implementing a ban on unhealthy food advertising is reasonable (the later 2021 deadline would apply to certain restrictions on salt in food).  Advertising would be restricted for those up to 17 years of age, and extends to 20 categories of advertising including radio and TV, online ads, sweepstakes, ads in video games, and other marketing in traditional and digital media directed to children.  Broadcast programming that reaches an audience that is 30% children 2 to 11 would be deemed "targeted" to them, for children 12 to 17, the programming would be deemed targeted to children if there were a 20% representation of those age groups in the audience.  Internet ads would also use the 20% standard.


Continue Reading FTC Requests Comments on Guidelines for Advertising Unhealthy Foods to Children

UPDATE:  On March 23rd, the FCC granted a ten-day extension of the filing deadline.  Comments are now due April 28th, and Reply Comments are due by May 27th.

The FCC’s recent item proposing the adoption of video description rules was published in the Federal Register today setting the deadline for Comments in

Yesterday, the FCC initiated a rule making proceeding to reinstate its prior video description rules with certain modifications, as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (Act). The proposed rules would require large market broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks and most cable operators and DBS providers to provide programming with audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements beginning as soon as first quarter 2012.  Davis Wright Tremaine previously summarized the Act in our earlier advisory available here.

The Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) takes the first step toward restoring the video description regulations that the FCC previously adopted in 2000, but which were subsequently vacated by the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Now with explicit Congressional authorization, the FCC seeks to restore the video description rules by Oct. 8, 2011, as required by the Act. The FCC proposes a quick implementation, with the video description and pass-through rules beginning Jan. 1, 2012. The most significant elements of the reinstated video description rules are: 

  • Broadcast affiliates of the top four national networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—located in the top 25 television markets must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime time and/or children’s programming with video descriptions.
  • The top five national nonbroadcast networks must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime time and/or children’s programming with video descriptions. The proposed rule would be applied to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), including cable operators and DBS providers with 50,000 or more subscribers, and presumably then be applied to the top five networks through affiliation agreements.
  • “Live” and “near live” programming is exempt from the rules.
  • In order to count toward the requirement, the programming must not have been aired previously with video descriptions, on that particular broadcast station or MVPD channel, more than once.
  • All broadcast stations, regardless of market size or affiliation, and all MVPDs, regardless of the number of subscribers they serve, must “pass through” video description when such descriptions are provided and when the station or program distributor has the technical capability to do so.

In addition to proposing to reinstate the rules previously adopted by the FCC, the item asks many practical implementation questions about refreshing market rankings, applicability of the rules to low power television, and what constitutes the “technical capability” to pass through video descriptions. In particular, the FCC seeks to refresh the list of the top 25 DMAs, as well as update the top five national nonbroadcast networks subject to the rule. In determining the top five nonbroadcast networks, the FCC proposes to exclude from the top five any nonbroadcast network that does not provide, on average, at least 50 hours per quarter of prime time non-exempt programming, i.e., programming that is not live or near-live. The NPRM specifically seeks comment from any network that believes it should be excluded from the top five covered networks because it does not offer enough pre-recorded prime time or children’s programming.


Continue Reading FCC Initiates Rule Making to Reinstate Video Description Regulations for Television Programming

On Friday, the FCC released seven Notices of Apparent Liability for violations of children’s programming rules, proposing forfeitures (i.e. fines) of $25,000 to $70,000 per station.  Most of the violations cited were overages of the commercial limits, which restrict stations to broadcasting 10.5 minutes per hour of commercial material during childrens programming on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.  Many of these overages were for durations of 15 seconds each.  In one case, the FCC found a Pokemon program to be a program length commercial (discussed below) where a Pokemon game card with the letters "MON" was displayed for one second in a Nintendo GameBoy commercial during the show.  In addition to overages of the commercial limits, other cited violations included failing to provide program guide publishers with information regarding the target child audience of core programsfailing to update the public file regarding compliance; and failing to publicize the existence and location of the station’s children’s television programming reports, in addition to the program length commercial issue described above. 

The largest fine, for $70,000, was issued in a case where most of the violations were for "program length commercials", in which a commercial for a memorabilia website shown during a "Yu-Gi-Oh" television program contained a "very brief" reference to Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards.  A program length commercial occurs when an advertisement contains a mention of a character or product that is associated with the program in which the ad appears.  In these situations, the Commission fears that children will not be able to perceive the difference between the programming and the commercial, and thus treats the entire program as a commercial.  In so doing, the station is considered to have exceeded the commercial limits by the entire length of the program less the number of commercial minutes allowed.  This is done even if the commercial image of the character or other program-related material is fleeting.  We’ve written about the difference in treatment between a commercial overage and program length commercial before, and this case makes clear just how seriously the Commission considers the latter and how costly this can be to the offending station.


Continue Reading FCC Increasing Fines for Violations of Children’s Programming Rules – Fines As High as $70,000 Per Station Issued

Last week, the FCC issued fines to Class A TV stations which seem to have forgotten the requirements for such stations. Class A TV stations were low power television stations on which, early in the decade, Congress decided to confer "protected" status, meaning that they could not be knocked off the air by a new full-power TV station or by a change in the facilities of a full-power station.  LPTV stations, by contrast, are "secondary services," meaning that they can be knocked off the air by changes in primary stations.  Class A stations were given this protection if they could show that they were providing local programming, had a local studio, and otherwise complied with all the operating requirements that a full-power station station has to meet – including a manned main studio, children’s television obligations, EEO reporting, and public file requirements.  Cases released last week remind these stations that they must still meet all requirements for full power stations, as the FCC fined Class A stations for main studio, public file and children’s television violations.

In one case, the FCC fined a station $1000 for violations of the main studio, main studio staffing and public file rules.  The fine was originally set at $24,000 but, as the licensee demonstrated that it had no ability to pay the higher fine, the penalty was reduced to $1000.  The FCC had tried to inspect the station, and was unable to obtain access to the transmitter site.  The Commission staff then tried to find the station’s main studio, and found that no one answered the phone number listed for the station, there did not appear to be anyone at the address on file for the main studio location, and there was of course no access to the public file.  As Commission rules require that stations have main studios in their principal service areas that are manned during normal business hours, and that stations have their public file at this location, the fine was issued.


Continue Reading Class A TV Stations Need to Remember They Are Subject to Full-Power Rules – Fines for Kids TV and Main Studio Violations

The FCC today issued a Forfeiture Order imposing a $30,000 fine on the licensee of three television stations for the stations’ failure to publicize the existence and location of the Children’s Television Reports for the Stations.  Even at a rate of $10,000 per station, this fine is significant and should serve as a loud, clear

In two just released cases, the FCC fined television stations $8000 each for failing to publicize the location of their Children’s Television Programming Reports for an entire license renewal period (the cases can be found here and here).  The FCC found that any remedial steps taken by the licensees after they discovered their failures at

Each year poses a new set of regulatory deadlines, and to help you remember all of those deadlines, the Davis Wright Tremaine Broadcast Group has prepared a calendar setting out the dates that broadcasters need to remember in 2010.  The calendar can be found here, and sets out FCC imposed deadlines for, among

On Friday, the Commission formally began a rule making proceeding regarding children and electronic media.  Aware of the vast opportunities, but also the potential risks inherent in today’s (and tomorrow’s) electronic media, the Commission is seeking to gather information about the extent to which children are using media today, the benefits and risks of the various

In the next few days, concerns about the protection of children from indecency and violence could lead to a report from the FCC to Congress urging use of the V Chip and other parental controls in devices other than television sets.  Remarks several weeks ago by FCC Chair Julius Genachowski suggesting that the FCC might want to look at content regulation beyond the broadcast medium, a view reiterated in an interview yesterday in TV NewsCheck, also suggest that  concerns about the exposure of children to indecency and other troubling programming on cable, online and by wireless devices may lead the FCC into unprecedented extensions of its regulation of entertainment content beyond the broadcast media.  An article today from Bloomberg News confirms that the FCC will be starting an inquiry to see if the television program ratings should be extended to cable and wireless entertainment services.  This extension of Federal regulation to protect children is occurring at the same time that similar concerns are being expressed by state legislatures, including the adoption of a recent law in Maine that effectively prohibits direct marketing to minors.

The report due this week follows a Notice of Inquiry issued by the Commission in March, as required by the Child Safe Viewing Act, legislation passed by Congress.  The law required that the FCC solicit public comment on "advanced blocking technology", the next generation of the V Chip, to see if these technologies can and should be extended to video programming other than broadcast television, including online communications, wireless communications (including video delivered to mobile  devices), DVRs and other video recorders, DVD players, and cable television.  The FCC Notice also asked why the current V Chip has seemingly not been used much by parents.  The FCC even asks if rules should be extended to video games – which were not specifically named in the legislation.  This would seemingly extend the FCC’s jurisdiction far beyond its current limits.  The FCC’s report is due by August 29. 


Continue Reading Protection of Children Prompts Potential FCC Regulation of Internet and Wireless Video Programming and Enhanced State Privacy Rules