FCC Changes Broadcast Contest Rules
September 21, 2015
by Jerry Glover
The Federal Communications Commission has issued a final order and implementing rules that change the way broadcast stations, both radio and television, promote contests and sweepstakes on their stations. (In this article, we’ll refer to sweepstakes and contests with one term: contests). In re Amendment of Section 73.1216 of the Commissions’ Rules Related to Broadcast Licensee-Conducted Contests, MB Doc. 14-226 (September 17, 2015). Before this ruling, stations had to announce on air (either in small type at the bottom of the screen on television contest promotions or in audio for radio promotions) the material terms of the contest when they mentioned the contest. Now a station can let viewers/listeners know that can find the contest’s material terms on the station’s website, the licensee’s website or a readily accessible public website.
The FCC defines “contest” as “a scheme in which a prize is offered or awarded, based upon change, diligence, knowledge or skill, to members of the public.” 47 C.F.R. Sec. 73.1216, Note 1(a).
The “material terms” of a contest will vary based on the type of contest but generally include how to enter or participate, eligibility restrictions (e.g., age, place of residence), entry deadline dates, whether prizes can be won, when prizes can be won, the extent, nature and value of prizes, basis for valuation of prizes, time and means of selection of winner and tie-breaking procedures. Id. at Note 1(b).
If a station chooses this method of disclosure, the station
- Must broadcast the website address periodically so that consumers can easily find the material terms.
- The website must be accessible on a 24 hour/7 days a week basis and cannot require any registration.
- The station only needs to give a simple instruction (e.g., for contest rules go to kxyz.com).
- Each licensee has the right to determine how often this announcement is made but the Commission noted that if it finds that licensees are “failing to broadcast the website address with adequate frequency, [the Commission] will revisit this issue in the future.”
- Must establish a link or tab to the material terms on the website’s home page
- This link or tab must take consumers to the material terms
- The link or tab must be conspicuously located on the website home page
- The link or tab must be labeled so that its relation to the contest information is clear
- Must maintain contest terms online for a period of at least 30 days after the contest has ended
- The 30 days period means for 30 days after a winner has been selected and the station has notified the winner either personally or publicly by broadcast announcement or over the internet site where the terms are disclosed
- Licensees should label a contest has expired after it concludes so that consumers will not be confused about whether the contest is still being conducted
- If the material terms of the contest changes while the contest is still ongoing, those changes must be announced on air and the viewers/listeners must be directed to the website to read about those changes
- Changes to the material terms should be a rare occurrence
- Changes must be announced within 24 hours of the change and periodically thereafter
- The website’s contest terms should be dated at the commencement date of the contest and dated again when material changes are made
- Changes to the material terms, even if announced publicly, cannot be misleading or deceptive or alters the operation of the contest or the nature or value of the prize or materially disadvantages existing contests
This rule change will be welcomed by the broadcast industry which, up to now, had to resort to wordy, on-air disclosures of a contest’s material terms.