The FCC today released a tentative meeting agenda for its September 17, 2015 Open Commission Meeting. The agenda includes consideration of a Report and Order granting broadcasters greater flexibility in making rule disclosures required by the FCC for station-conducted contests.
As we posted here and here, the Commission previously adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to “modernize” its nearly 40-year-old station-conducted contest rule. The current rule requires broadcasters conducting a contest to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest” by airing them a “reasonable” number of times. As readers of our Enforcement Monitor know, differing opinions on what is “material” and “reasonable” have led to numerous FCC enforcement actions, typically resulting in $4,000 fines.
The NPRM proposed to alleviate some of that confusion by allowing broadcasters to post contest rules on any publicly accessible website and then announce the web address on-air in lieu of broadcasting the rules themselves. In addition to easing the burden on broadcasters, who must often resort to speed reading contest rules on-air to cover all material terms while putting their audiences to sleep in the process, the proposed rule will give audience members the opportunity to review the contest rules at a more leisurely pace and at their convenience on the Internet.
The key question that remains is what the Commission’s Report and Order will say regarding how often a station must air the web address for the contest rules. The NPRM originally proposed including the contest rule web address with every mention of the contest, which could clutter the airwaves even more than the current rule’s requirement to air all of the material terms a reasonable number of times. Commenters in the proceeding pushed back, suggesting less frequent website mentions, and asking the FCC to modify its NPRM proposal that each mention include “the complete and direct website address” to instead allow use of a shorter web address (e.g., the station’s main website) where a link to the contest rules can be found.
The Report and Order under consideration has been a long time coming. The original petition for rulemaking was filed in January of 2012 and encountered no opposition, with all parties seeing the benefit of maximizing the respective strengths of broadcasting and the Internet in conducting a contest. With the ability to easily post the full contest rules online, station licensees will no longer need to stress over which contest rules are “material”, and audience members will no longer have to be speed readers (or speed listeners) to participate in a station-conducted contest.