The FCC recently fined Sinclair Broadcast Group for violations of its sponsor identification rules, where Sinclair aired over 1,700 on-air paid segments, produced by Sinclair as media buy “value adds,” without a clear disclosure that the content was advertising. The segments included 60-90 second segments made to look like independently generated news coverage, and 30-minute paid broadcasts. Specifically, the FCC found that certain on-air stories aired without any announcement disclosing the programming was sponsored, and certain of the long-form programs aired with deficient announcements identifying the programming was paid, failing to clearly identify the sponsor. The FCC rejected Sinclair’s argument that no sponsorship announcement was legally required, noting that even Sinclair’s agreement with the advertiser specifically obligated it to air sponsorship identification announcements, and that Sinclair reminded its station managers to make the required disclosures.
Although Sinclair included disclosure announcements in certain long-form programs, such as “paid advertisement” along with an on-screen graphic stating, “Thanks for joining us for this special broadcast from the Huntsman Cancer Institute,” and a graphic disclosing that “the program supplier” had paid for the broadcast, the FCC found that this did not comply with the regulation because it did not clearly identify that Huntsman Cancer Institute paid for the program.
TIP: Advertisers should keep in mind that, in addition to FTC disclosure requirements, the FCC has its own regulations requiring broadcasters to announce to viewers at the time the program is aired that the broadcaster has been paid to air the programming and clearly identify the sponsor. Notably, the FCC considers value-added television content produced by a media partner to be paid-for content subject to the FCC’s regulations.