FCC Admonishes TV Station For Violating Ad Limits In Kids’ Programs
November 2, 2015
by Jerry Glover
Federal Communications Commission regulations limit the amount of commercials that commercial TV stations can air during children’s programming. 47 C.F.R. Sec. 73.670. These rules were mandated by a federal law, the Children’s Television Act of 1990, 47 U.S.C. Secs. 303a, 303b and 394. The rules, which became effective in 1992, limit commercials aired during children’s programming to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.
The Commission also has issued rules known as the website address rules that restrict the display of Internet addresses during children’s programming which are directed at kids ages 12 and under. Sec. 73.670(b) permits website address displays during programs not counted as commercial time only if it meets a four prong test: (1) the website offers a substantial amount of bona fide programming or other noncommercial content; (2) the website is not primarily intended for commercial purposes including either e-commerce or ads; (3) the website’s home page and other menu pages are clearly labeled to distinguish the noncommercial from the commercial sections; and (4) the page of the website to which viewers are directed by the web address is not used for e-commerce, ads or other commercial purposes (e.g., contains no links labeled “store” and no links to another page with commercial matter).
Television Station WHEC in St. Paul Minneapolis filed a license renewal application with the FCC in January, 2015. In that application, the station admitted that in October, 2013 the station aired the Internet address for the website www.lazytown.com during the closing credits of the children’s program “Lazy Town” which was provide by NBC and by Sprout as part of the NBC Kids Saturday Morning Block. In previous decisions the Commission made it clear that web address displaying during closing credits are part of the television programming material and are subject to the website address rules. The station described the website address as fleeting.
In a letter to the station dated October 22, 2015 the Commission noted that the station was liable for any rules violations even if the website was inserted by another (NBC or Sprout). In other words, a station is liable for what it broadcasts no matter the source. The Commission added that any violation of the rules limiting commercial matter in children’s programming, including insertion of web addresses, is considered significant. But in this case, the Commission decided that WHEC’s violation was an isolated occurrence and decided that only an admonition was appropriate. The FCC warned, however, that more severe sanctions for similar violations in the future would warrant more severe sanctions. The FCC did not explain if it believed the web site referenced in the closing credits of the program in question violated the above-noted four prong test.
The rules limiting ads in children’s programming are well known and, generally, observed. The web address rules, while not as well known, can lead to sanctions (e.g., significant fines) just as severe as those issued for violating the amount of commercial time inserted into children’s programming.