disclosure of contest rules

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $20,000 fine on an iHeart radio station for

In the last week, the FCC issued proposed fines to two big radio companies for alleged violations of FCC requirements. One proposed fine was for apparent violations of the FCC’s EEO rules, and the other dealt with the obligations of broadcasters to disclose and follow rules for on-air contests.  In both cases, the proposed fines focused on paperwork issues, not necessarily substantive issues.  These decisions seem to signal to the broadcast industry generally that they need to dot every “I” and cross every “T” to avoid penalties like those proposed in these cases.

The EEO Notice of Apparent Liability, issued unanimously by all four FCC Commissioners, proposed a $32,000 fine on Cumulus Media because of one Annual EEO Public File Report that was uploaded to the online public file of co-owned stations in a Georgia market about 9 months after the due date for uploading the report (and the link to that report on each stations’ website was also missing for that period).  In addition, the FCC said that another fine for failing to self-assess the station’s EEO program was warranted. Broadcasters are required to regularly assess the effectiveness of their EEO program.  But what was that failure to assess?  The evidence relied on in issuing this fine was that the public file report had not been uploaded for over 9 months so, if the licensee had been regularly assessing its program, it would have noted that the required report had not made it to the online public file.  The decision did not cite any failure by the licensee to recruit widely when it had open positions, nor any failure of the group to conduct the required EEO non-vacancy specific outreach (described in our posts here and here).  The alleged violations cited in the decision were simply tied to the failure to upload the required documents.  While the base fines for these violations totaled less than $10,000, the proposed fine was increased because Cumulus previously had been found to have had FCC rule violations for EEO and sponsorship identification matters.
Continue Reading Two Proposed FCC Fines Suggest Tougher Enforcement – $32,000 for EEO Paperwork Issues and $20,000 for Alleged Contest Rule Violations

Last week, the FCC announced a Consent Decree with a Florida broadcaster, with the broadcaster admitting violations of several FCC rules and agreeing to pay a $125,000 fine and enter into a consent decree to ensure future compliance.  The violations addressed in the decree include (i) the failure to monitor tower lights and report that they had been out for significant periods of time, (ii) the failure to update the Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) of the tower to reflect that the broadcaster was the owner, (iii) not following the announced rules in conducting certain contests, and (iv) broadcasting seemingly live content that was in fact prerecorded, without labeling the programming as having been prerecorded.  While the details of the violations are provided in only summary fashion, these violations all serve as a reminder to broadcasters to watch their compliance – and also highlight the apparent interest of the FCC in enforcing the rule on seemingly live but prerecorded content, a rule rarely if ever enforced until this year.

Looking at the contest violations first, the Consent Decree gives a general description of the contests in question in a footnote.  One contest was apparently a scavenger hunt.  The station had intended for the contest to run for an extended period, but a listener found the prize soon after the on-air promotion began.  To prolong the on-air suspense, the station agreed with that listener to not reveal that she had won.  The station continued to promote and seemingly conduct the contest on the air for some time, until finally awarding the prize to the original winner.  In another contest, the station gave prizes to people who called in at designated times during the day.  According to the allegations in the Consent Decree, fake call-ins were recorded by the station to be broadcast during times when there were no live DJs.  As we have written before (see our articles here and here), the FCC requires that stations conduct on-air contests substantially in the manner set out in the announced rules for that contest – and the broadcasts about the contest cannot be materially misleading.  The FCC concluded that these contests did not meet that standard, and also found another problem with those prerecorded call-ins to the station.
Continue Reading $125,000 FCC Penalty to Broadcaster for Tower Structure and Contest Rule Violations – Including Violation of Rule Against Broadcasting Seemingly Live Recorded Programming Without Informing Listeners

The FCC’s new contest rules for broadcasters, allowing the disclosure of material terms on the Internet rather than reading them on the air, becomes effective upon the publication in the Federal Register of their approval by the Office of Management and Budget. OMB approval has been obtained, and the Federal Register publication is scheduled to

Today, the FCC published notice in the Federal Register of the adoption of the new simplified rules for publicizing the material rules for contests conducted by broadcasters. This publication was for purposes of review by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act, a review necessary before any new rules requiring

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

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

The FCC on Friday proposed to amend its rules governing contests conducted by broadcast stations by allowing the required disclosure of the material terms of the contest on the Internet, as an option for broadcasters in lieu of the current requirement that these disclosures be made by broadcasting them on-the-air a reasonable number of times.  But the proposed rule change is not as simple as one would think, with the FCC asking about whether a number of specific obligations should be attached to any online disclosures, even potentially adding the requirement that the full URL for the online disclosure be made every time a contest is mentioned on the air, not simply a reasonable number of times as required under the current rules.  So just what is the FCC proposing, and what is the big issue here?

The rule governing the conduct of broadcaster’s contests, Section 73.1216, covers contests conducted by broadcasters over-the-air.  It does not cover contests by broadcasters that are exclusively conducted online (though, as we wrote here, if the contest is announced on the air, even if primarily conducted online, all the required on-air disclosures apply).  It does not cover contests conducted by third-parties that are broadcast on the air (so contests conducted by an advertiser are not covered by this rule).  The current rule, in addition to requiring that the contest be conducted fairly and in accordance with the rules adopted for the contest, requires that the “material rules” be broadcast on the air on a regular basis so that listeners know what they might win, how to play the contest, and how the winner is selected.  It is this requirement, that the material rules be broadcast on the station, that has led to problems in the past, and thus prompted the proposed changes advanced on Friday.
Continue Reading FCC Proposes To Amend Rules Governing Broadcast Contests – Suggests Allowing Disclosure of Material Terms of the Contest on the Internet

Since our note Friday about November regulatory dates for broadcasters, it’s become clear that the FCC will be acting on two more matters of interest to broadcasters – particularly radio broadcasters though each have some implications for TV as well.  First, as we hinted at the end of our article on Friday (the rumors that we had heard having now been confirmed), Chairman Wheeler has circulated a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the expansion of the online public file to radio (as well as cable and satellite).  And, secondly, the FCC has announced that, at its open meeting on November 21, it will open a rulemaking to modernize the disclosure rules for on-air contests conducted by broadcasters – rules which have resulted in FCC fines over the last few years.

The fact that the online public file proposal for radio has now matured into a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is confirmed by the FCC’s list of Items on Circulation (basically, draft orders that the Commissioners currently have in front of them for review and voting), which now lists that item near the top of its list.  See the list of Items on Circulation, here: http://www.fcc.gov/fcc-items-circulation.  While most folks in radio knew that the day would come when their public files might be required to go online, the speed with which the FCC now seems to be acting is what is most surprising, as it was only a bit over two months ago that the FCC took comments on whether or not to even consider that proposal (see our article here).  But, with lightning speed, the order appears to be moving forward.  How fast will it be implemented?
Continue Reading Formal Proceedings to Begin to Revise Rules for Broadcasters’ On-Air Contests and Expand the Online Public File Obligations to Radio, Cable and Satellite

In a decision issued last week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau once again made clear that stations will be given no slack if they don’t announce on the air all of the material terms of a contest – even the specifics of changes in prizes to be awarded over a long period of time. In this decision, the FCC imposed a $4000 fine on a radio station for a contest called “Who Said That,” where the station broadcast a clip of a celebrity saying something, and gave prizes to listeners who identified the celebrity. The fine was triggered by the last clip in the series, broadcast in 2007, that was not correctly identified for 20 months. Through the summer of 2008, the station continued to broadcast the contest rules, but apparently stopped broadcasting them except when prompted by a listener from summer 2008 through September 2009, when the prize was finally awarded, . The failure to announce the rules during this time period, and the failure to announce that prizes had changed during this time, led to the $4000 fine.

The Commission faulted the licensee for not updating the on-air announcement of the list of the prizes to be awarded. The licensee argued that there was no material violation as, when certain prizes became unavailable (e.g. tickets to concert that occurred during the period when the prize remain unawarded), the station substituted prizes of equal value. But the failure to announce the substitutions, or even that substitutions would be made, was seen by the FCC as a violation of Section 73.1216 of the rules.Continue Reading $4000 FCC Fine for Not Updating Material Terms of Broadcast Contest in On-Air Announcements