FTC sponsorship requirements

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

All media companies, including broadcasters, webcasters, podcasters and others, need to consider carefully their advertising production after the big penalties imposed on Google and iHeart for broadcast commercials where local DJs promoted the Pixel 4 phone.  Promotions included statements that clearly implied that the announcers had used the phone, including statements that it was “my favorite camera” and “I’ve been taking studio-like photos” with the phone.  But, according to the announcements of the settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and seven state attorneys general (see the FTC press release and blog article), the announcers had not in fact used the phone.  Google will pay the states penalties  of $9 million, and iHeart will pay about $400,000 (see example of the state Court filings on the settlement, this one for Massachusetts, for Google and iHeart).  Each will enter into consent orders with the FTC (Google order here and iHeart here) requiring 10-year recordkeeping and compliance plans to train employees, maintain records of advertising with endorsements, and reports to be filed periodically with the FTC.

The mission of the FTC is to protect the public from deceptive or unfair business practices and from unfair methods of competition.  In that role, the FTC regulates deceptive advertising practices.  Over a decade ago, we highlighted the FTC’s update of its policies on “testimonial and endorsement advertising” that made clear that the FTC required that any sort of “celebrity” (interpreted broadly) endorser had to have a basis for the claims that they were making in their pitches for a product.  This notice also made clear that any statements made about the experience in using a product had to be accurate and, when making claims about the performance of a product, the endorser had to accurately state performance that users can expect to obtain when they use the product.  Just using a “your results may vary” disclaimer was not enough.  In the 2009 proceeding, the FTC emphasized the applicability of these standards to online promotions, requiring disclosures for not only traditional advertising but also for social media influencers and others who are paid to promote products through online channels.  Such payments (or any other valuable consideration the influencer receives) must be disclosed when pitching a product.
Continue Reading Big FTC Penalties on Google and iHeart for Deceptive Endorsements in Broadcast Commercials Mandate Care in Crafting Your Local Advertising

Last week, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was in the news for sending a letter to the major record labels asking for information about their practices in paying broadcast stations for airing the label’s music.  The letter follows correspondence last year between the Commissioner and the RIAA (the Recording Industry’s trade group) asking for similar information, which the RIAA claimed that it did not have.  This process began after a Rolling Stone magazine article suggested that “payola” was still a common practice in the broadcast industry.  These actions, and the press reports that followed, raise a couple of interesting questions including what the FCC rules are on payola, and how broadcast practices compare to those of online companies.

The Communications Act prohibits the practice of “payola” by requiring, in Section 317, that when any content is aired on a station in exchange for anything of value, the station must disclose that “consideration” has been paid by the person or entity that pays for the consideration.  Thus, “payola” arises when a broadcast station employee or contractor receives or is promised anything of value in return for putting any content on the air, and that payment is not disclosed to the public.  Payola usually occurs when someone makes a gift or payment to a person involved in station programming (i.e., station employees, program producers, program suppliers) in exchange for favorable on-air exposure of a product or service.  While the term “payola” is most often associated with the receipt by a station announcer or music director of money, trips or other value for playing songs on the station, the same prohibition applies whenever any station programming personnel receive anything of value in exchange for airing any content where a sponsorship identification is not broadcast.  For examples of fines for airing programming for which consideration was received without acknowledging the receipt of valuable consideration, outside the context of music, see our articles here, here and here
Continue Reading FCC Commissioner Asks Record Labels for Information About Payola Practices – What are the FCC Rules?  How Do These Practices Compare to Online Music Providers?