payment for noncommercial sponsorship

A decision that noncommercial broadcasters should note was released by the Commission last week. The decision was one that upheld a 2012 consent decree where, to resolve objections against the sale of a noncommercial radio station owned by the University of San Francisco, the Media Bureau imposed a fine of $50,000 for a pre-sale LMA which paid the licensee more than the costs of the operation of the station (we wrote about that case and a similar case resolved earlier this year, here). While last week’s decision did not tread any new ground, the fact that the full Commission upheld a determination that a $50,000 fine was an appropriate sanction for a noncommercial station that entered into an LMA that paid it more than its out-of-pocket expenses reinforces the importance of assessing the consideration paid to any noncommercial broadcaster for the sale of programming time on their stations. A noncommercial station can accept funds sufficient to reimburse it for the costs of its operations during the time that the program aired, but it cannot receive more than that reimbursement in the way of compensation for programming time.

As we wrote in January following the release by the FCC of a similar decision, with a similar fine, in another case where a noncommercial licensee was paid more than its expenses by an LMA programmer, the FCC does not want noncommercial stations to be looked at as revenue generating operations for their licensees. If the station is paid for programming, any payments should simply cover station expenses. Last week’s decision looked at other issues too.
Continue Reading FCC Upholds $50,000 Penalty for Noncommercial LMA Where Licensee Paid More than its Operational Expenses

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to noncommercial broadcasters who had underwriting announcements that sounded too commercial.  In these decisions, the Commission found that the stations had broadcast promotional announcements for commercial businesses – and those announcements did not conform to the FCC’s rules requiring that announcements acknowledging contributions to noncommercial stations cannot contain qualitative claims about the sponsor, nor can they contain "calls to action" suggesting that listeners patronize the sponsor.  These cases also raised an interesting issue in that the promotional announcements that exceeded FCC limits were not in programming produced by the station, but instead in programs produced by outside parties who received the compensation that led to the announcement.  The FCC found that there was liability for the spots that were too promotional even though the station itself had received no compensation for the airing of that spot.

The rules for underwriting announcements on noncommercial stations (including Low Power FM stations) limit these announcements to ones that identify sponsors, but do not overtly promote their businesses.   Underwriting announcements can identify the sponsor, say what the business of the sponsor is, and give a location (seemingly including a website address).  But the announcements cannot do anything that would specifically encourage patronage of the sponsor’s business.  They cannot contain a "call to action" (e.g. they cannot say "visit Joe’s hardware on Main Street" or "Call Mary’s Insurance Company today").  They cannot contain any qualitative statements about the sponsors products or services (e.g. they cannot say "delicious food", "the best service", or "a friendly and knowledgeable staff" ).  The underwriting announcements cannot contain price information about products sold by a sponsor.  In one of the cases decided this week, the Commission also stated that the announcements cannot be too long, as that in and of itself makes the spot seem overly promotional and was more than was necessary to identify the sponsor and the business that the sponsor was in.  The spot that was criticized was approximately 60 seconds in length. Continue Reading FCC Fines for Noncommercial Stations Having Underwriting Announcements That Were Too Commercial – Even Where the Station Received No Money