The FCC yesterday agreed to modernize its contest rules, allowing broadcasters to publicize the material terms of a contest that is conducted by a station through posting those rules on an Internet website, rather than requiring that the material rules be read on the air often enough so that a listener is likely to have heard them. The FCC’s order does impose obligations that the website location be announced on the air and that the site be accessible to everyone, but the changes, once they go into effect, will be a relief to many broadcasters who have had so much trouble in recent years with the current rules requiring on-air disclosure of a contest’s material terms (see, for instance, the many fines that have been issued to broadcasters for violations of these rules, about which we wrote here, here and here).
When these new rules go into effect (after approval by the Office and Management and Budget after a Paperwork Reduction Act review – an exercise that the FCC must go through for all new rules with any paperwork requirements even though it would seem to be a formality here where the rules clearly work to reduce the burden on broadcasters), a broadcaster will be able to satisfy the requirement to disclose the material rules of a contest either by continuing the old practice of reading the material rules on the air, or by posting those rules to an accessible website, and publicizing the Internet location of those rules on the air. The website hosting the rules can either be the station website or some other site, but the rules state that the site must be available to everyone who visits it without having to register to use the site or to pay any sort of fee to access the site. The on-air announcement about the website does not need to give the exact URL of the page on which the rules can be found, as long as the announcement is specific enough so that a listener will be able to find the rules (e.g. by saying something like “go to the K-100 website, k100.com, and click on the ‘contest’ tab”). The FCC also makes clear that, if a station is sending its audience to the station’s homepage to find the contest rules, that there should be a tab, link or other clearly identified location on the homepage to make clear where listeners should go to find the contest rules.
How often does a station need to broadcast information about the website where the rules can be found? The FCC did not mandate any specific number of times – but that is no different from the current rules, where the FCC never specified exactly how many times the material rules needed to be broadcast. The website needs to be identified enough so that a typical station listener will know where to go to find the rules. The FCC noted that the location of the rules does need to be broadcast the first time that the contest is promoted on the air – just as the material rules currently need to be read the first time that the contest is mentioned on air (see this article about a case where the FCC fined a station for not doing so).
The FCC also made clear that the rules need to be on the website from the beginning of the contest through a point at least 30 days after the contest ends and the prize is awarded. Presumably, that is so that listeners who don’t win the contest can review the rules to make sure that the station observed those rules when it was awarding the prize. That obligation highlights the need for stations to carefully observe the rules when they conduct the contest. You must make sure that you give away the prize exactly in same the way that you said that you would in the rules (see our numerous articles about cases where a station which was fined for not following its own rules when it gave away a prize, or for having rules that were ambiguous or unclear – here, here, here and here).