commercial limits in childrens television

With the obligation of television stations to file the quarterly Children’s Television Reports on FCC Form 398 by Monday (as the usual January 10 date is on a weekend) and the simultaneous requirement to place into their online public file documentation of compliance with the commercial limits in Children’s programming, it is worth reminding stations of the seriousness with which the FCC continues to view its children’s television rules.  There have been a number of fines and enforcement actions against TV stations in recent weeks, highlighting the need for stations to be vigilant about compliance with all aspects of the children’s television rules.  While the license renewal cycle, during which most of these issues come to light, is coming to an end in 2015 and stations that have already been renewed won’t face renewal scrutiny for at least another 5 years, issues that arise even this far out from the renewal window can haunt the station at the next renewal.  Moreover, with the public inspection files of stations now online, the FCC or other interested parties can view station’s compliance with these obligations at anytime from anywhere, and can easily file FCC complaints.  So TV stations cannot let down their guard simply because their license renewal has been granted.

In the past week, we saw one interesting case, where the FCC proposed to fine a station $3000 for failing to include the “E/I” symbol in the educational and informational programming directed to children on two of its multicast channels.  The FCC rejected arguments by the licensee that the programming on those channels was in Korean, and thus the E/I symbol would not make sense to the Korean viewers of the programing.  The Commission reasoned that, if the station wanted an exemption to the rules, where it could identify the programming as educational and informational in Korean text, the station should have asked for a waiver of the rules. 
Continue Reading Remember Children’s Television Compliance Obligations – The FCC Does Not Forget

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