In a decision just released by the FCC, a TV station was admonished for including, in the credits of a TV program, the URL for a website that contained commercial material. As this was deemed by the FCC to be an isolated occurrence, the station was only admonished, not fined for the violation. But the decision is a good reminder for TV stations of the advertising and marketing restrictions that apply to children’s television programs and to links to websites contained in such programs.

The FCC’s rules prohibit a station from including a website’s address in programming directed to children 12 and under unless it meets a 4 part test. The four parts of that test are as follows:

  1. the website offers a substantial amount of bona fide program related or other noncommercial content;
  2. the website is not primarily intended for commercial purposes, including either e-commerce or advertising;
  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 website address is not used for e-commerce, advertising, or other commercial purposes (e.g., contains no links labeled “store” and no links to another page with commercial material)

In this case, the website had commercial content, leading to the admonition to the station. The URL was apparently visible for less than a second, in the credits, and ran only once. As this was an isolated instance, the station was not monetarily penalized, but the FCC did make clear that this was a rule violation.

We have written about fines for running too many commercials in children’s programming or having a station host promote a commercial product. We also wrote about fines for not properly promoting educational and informational programming directed to children in TV program guides, and for not properly labeling educational and informational programming run on multicast channels with the “E/I” symbol. We have also written about fines for failing to timely file with the FCC children’s television reports on Form 398 reporting on educational and informational programming directed to children, and about how stations need to take care in classifying programming as educational and informational. This decision points out one other area in which TV stations need to proceed with care to avoid issues with the FCC in connection with children’s programming.