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

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

Two big fines for the broadcast of telephone conversations without first getting consent of the person at the other end of the phone were released by the FCC today, and each raises a number of interesting issues. Section 73.1206 of the FCC’s rules prohibits the broadcast, or recording for purposes of broadcast, of telephone calls without first getting the consent of the person on the other end of the phone. In the first case released this week, a broadcaster was fined $25,000 for the broadcast of two phone calls on two commonly-owned stations. In the second case, the same broadcaster was fined $16,000 for a violation of the rule at a different station. These cases are very interesting in that they address and reject many defenses to the fines that were raised by the broadcaster.

The $25,000 fine came in the follow up to a Notice of Apparent Liability which we wrote about here. In this case, a station was accused of airing two calls in a program called “You Fell For It.” A complaint alleged that the station called individuals and put them on the air without notice. The licensee first attempted to defend against the claim on the grounds that the person who complained was not one of the people who was called and put on the air without consent. The FCC found that this was not necessary – any listener to the station could complain about a violation of the rules. The FCC found that this rule is not one where the only complaint can come from the individual harmed by being put on the air – though the FCC does not present any policy basis of why the rule should be enforced if the individuals who are apparently being protected (individuals who want to preserve their privacy by not going on the air) do not complain about the station’s conduct.


Continue Reading FCC Fines of $25,000 and $16,000 for Airing Phone Calls Without Prior Consent

FCC fines for violations of the FCC rules dealing with contests have been common in the last few years. Because of these fines, we recently conducted a webinar for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, discussing the requirements of FCC rule Section 73.1216 which regulates the conduct of station-sponsored contests.  We also discussed what should be addressed

In recent years, the FCC has been to aggressively enforcing a policy requiring broadcasters to announce all material rules of a contest on the air enough times for a reasonable listener to hear the announcements.  This past week, there was yet another case where this policy was enforced, resulting in a $4000 fine to a broadcaster.  While the FCC continues to enforce this policy, at least one broadcaster has reportedly decided that a fine for not having broadcast of the material rules of a contest is not justified, and is apparently ready to take the FCC on in Court in a case where the FCC tries to enforce a fine issued several years ago.

The newest fine involved a station in Cleveland, which ran a contest called "Who Said That" where a clip of the voice of a sports figure was played on the air.  The first person to be able to identify the speaker won a prize.  Apparently, if no prize was awarded, a new prize was added each week until the voice was identified, when the winner would get all of the accumulated prizes.  In this case, the station ran an announcement about the rules regularly until the station aired a clip that was not identified for some time.   As the clip remained unidentified over the course of many weeks, and then many months, the station apparently became less rigorous about announcing the rules.  But, more importantly to the FCC, the station did not announce on the air all of the prizes that had accumulated, nor did it announce that some of the prizes had become unavailable and had been replaced over time by prizes of what the station considered to be of an equivalent value.  As the station had not announced the "extent, nature and value of the prizes," the FCC found the station to be in violation – even though the right to substitute prizes of equal value was contained in the written rules published by the station.


Continue Reading FCC Fines Another Broadcaster For Not Announcing All Rules of a Contest – While One Broadcaster Protests

In another sign of just how closely the FCC monitors contests conducted by broadcast stations, the FCC this week issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (a notice of a fine of $4000) to Nassau Broadcasting for being imprecise in the wording of the contest rules for a contest to be held at one of its stations.  In the rules of the contest, the station stated that entries would be accepted "through June 13, 2008."  In fact, the contest was conducted on the evening of June 12, and the station cut off entries to the contest on June 12.  When a listener went to enter the contest on June 13, and was told that she could not enter as the prize had already been awarded, the listener filed a complaint at the FCC.  The FCC, reading the language "through June 13" to mean that listeners could enter the contest up to and including that day, fined the licensee $4000 for misleading its listeners as to the proper rules for the contest it conducted.  This is another indication of just how seriously the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is taking the enforcement of Section 73.1216 of the Commission’s rules, which requires licensees "to fully and accurately disclose the material terms" of any contests that it conducts, and to "conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised."  Broadcasters need to be very precise in their wording of contest rules, and make sure that they carefully observe the details of the rules that they adopt.

In this case, it seems likely that the licensee was simply imprecise in its wording – stating that entries would be taken "through June 13" when it meant "before June 13."  This would have seemed evident from the fact that the rules said that the winner would be announced on the morning show on June 13.  Clearly, if the winner was going to be announced on the morning of June 13, it wouldn’t do much good entering after that time.  But the ambiguity in the rules is construed by the FCC against the party who prepared the rules – as is evident from the finding in this case that these rules did not fully and accurately describe the rules of the contest (and actually holding the contest on the night of the 12th instead of the morning of the 13th probably didn’t help much).  So what should a broadcaster do to make sure that this kind of ambiguity does not hit them in one of their contests?


Continue Reading A $4000 Fine After a Complaint About a Broadcast Contest – Make Sure that Contest Rules are Precise