On September 17, 2015, the FCC released a Report and Order with a long-awaited update to the Contest Rule that gives broadcasters substantially more flexibility as to the medium they choose to announce rules for contests (a term the FCC uses to encompass both contests and sweepstakes). The Commission determined that it is in the public interest to allow television and radio broadcasters to disclose their contest terms and conditions on the Internet, as an alternative to announcing terms and conditions on the air. However, the revised rule simultaneously creates a number of requirements for broadcasters that choose to post disclosures online. The revisions were approved unanimously by all five FCC Commissioners and generally have been well-received by broadcasters.
The FCC’s Contest Rule was originally implemented in 1976, and until last week’s Order, had not been modified since. In the Commission’s press release announcing the changes, the FCC recognized that the update was long overdue in light of “the dramatic changes that have occurred in the way Americans obtain information.”
Specifically, the rule was amended “to allow licensees to satisfy their disclosure obligation by posting material contest terms on the station’s website, the licensee’s website, or, if neither the individual nor the licensee has its own website, any Internet website that is readily accessible to the public.” According to the Commission, this change will be beneficial to both broadcasters and consumers by freeing up air time for other programming content as well as ensuring that consumers have more reliable access to relevant information about contests.
Broadcasters will still be permitted to announce contest terms over the air, if they prefer. However, should a licensee choose to take advantage of the rule revision and post contest terms online, it must comply with the following requirements:
- Contest terms must be displayed on a website that “is designed to be accessible to the public 24/7 for free, and without any registration requirement” and must “conform in all substantive respects” to terms that are announced on air.
- The website where the contest terms are posted must have a link or tab on its home page that consumers can click on to access contest information and the contest terms must remain available on the website for at least thirty days after the contest has concluded.
- When announcing the web address where contest terms are located, broadcasters must provide sufficient information so that a consumer can find the terms easily. (For example: “For contest rules go to kxyz.com and then click on the contest tab.”)
- Licensees must broadcast the website where contest terms are available “periodically.” The Commission declined, however, to provide a specific example as to what frequency is sufficient.
- If, after the broadcaster’s initial announcement, there is a material change to the contest terms, “the licensee must announce on air that the contest rules have been changed and direct participants to the website to review the changes.” This announcement must take place within 24 hours of the material change.
Finally, the Commission was careful to note that even with the new disclosure options, the underlying purpose of the contest rule has not changed and broadcasters still have an obligation to conduct contests in a manner that is not false, misleading or deceptive to consumers.