Contest Rules, Revised

The days of speed-talking contest rule disclosures may soon go the way of rotary dials.
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The days of speed-talking contest rule disclosures may soon go the way of rotary dials.

The FCC adopted rules to avoid disclosing contest rules over the air, and to instead move to online disclosure of broadcasters� contest rules. The changes come nearly four years after a petition for rulemaking was filed by Entercom Communications.

The broadcast contest rule requires the station to �fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest� and to �conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised.� The rule requires that these disclosures occur periodically and not be false, misleading or deceptive. Enforcement of this rule has been rigorous at times, with several broadcasters being fined each year.

While the substantive requirement that material terms of broadcast contests be disclosed has not changed, the rule changes will permit the disclosures to be posted online. The following is a summary of the major points.

Publically Accessible Website: First, if a broadcaster chooses to post contest rules online, the FCC will require broadcasters to place the complete rules on a website that is designed to be available at all times, without separate subscription or other registration requirements. The website can be owned by the station, the station�s licensee, or if neither have their own website, any other website that is available to the public.

Broadcast Identification of Website Address: Next, the FCC will require broadcasters to disclose the website address of the location of the contest rules on a periodic basis. The FCC declined to adopt specific language for how to refer to the website, instead permitting the licensee to use language that a typical consumer would understand and be able to use to find the website. For example, the broadcaster would be able to say, �For contest rules go to kxyz.com and then click on the contest tab,� rather than specifically giving the complete Web address.

The FCC decided not to adopt requirements that the notices regarding the location of the online contest disclosure be broadcast on a more frequent basis. Instead, the FCC will continue to require that the disclosure be made on a periodic basis, and leave the specific timing to the broadcaster�s discretion.

Internet Link to Contest Terms: To enable consumers to readily locate and review contest rules, the FCC adopted rules to require licensees to create a link or tab on their website home page that will take the consumer directly to the disclosure statement.

Duration of Online Disclosure Obligation: In the past, it was unclear how long broadcasters were required to air contest rules after the first notice of the contest. To ensure that consumers will have access to the contest rules, the new rules require broadcasters to keep their contest rules available for thirty days after the contest has concluded. Moreover, to eliminate confusion, broadcasters should update the website to label contest rules that have expired.

Changes to Material Contest Terms: As noted previously, the basic requirement for contest rules is that they are not false, misleading or deceptive, and that requirement will not change under the new rules. However, changes to contest rules and procedures under the prior regime were more easily provided to the public because the new terms simply would be read over the air.

Under the new rules, changes to the rules or procedures of a contest will require the broadcaster to announce on-air that the rules of the contest have changed, and to direct listeners to the new contest rules available at the website. The notice of a change in the contest rules will need to be broadcast within 24 hours of a change in the material terms of a contest, and the FCC suggests that broadcasters specifically note when the contest rules were updated.

Consistency of Contest Terms: Finally, the FCC reminded broadcasters that the information provided to consumers over the air must conform in all material respects to the information provided in the online version of the contest rules. Thus, the FCC will focus on whether the disclosures are substantially the same when conducting enforcement actions.

The new rules should serve to eliminate the current awkward announcements that are not easy to follow and were often misunderstood if a consumer was driving or otherwise distracted. The licensee reaping the benefit of the modified rule should be very careful in implementing the new procedures though, and take steps to ensure that all information being provided to the public is consistent, and is not false, misleading or deceptive.

Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
Email: lee.petro@dbr.com.

Dateline

Dec. 2, 2015 � All commercial broadcast stations must file Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323) with data current as of Oct. 1, 2015.

Dec. 2, 2015 � Noncommercial broadcast stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont must file Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323-E).

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