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