At the FCC’s November Open Meeting this morning, all four Commissioners and Chairman Wheeler voted to adopt an NPRM that will propose to bring the Commission’s disclosure requirements for licensee-conducted contests into the 21st Century.  The text of the NPRM was released shortly after the Meeting.

As numerous Commissioners and the Chairman noted, the contest rule – which requires broadcast stations to periodically announce on-air the material terms of any licensee-conducted contest – was adopted nearly 40 years ago.  Although the values of honesty, fairness, and disclosure that inform the rule have withstood the test of time, the ways in which the public accesses and consumes information have changed dramatically.

Accordingly, the NPRM proposes to allow broadcasters more flexibility in disclosing material contest terms.  Instead of broadcasting detailed on-air announcements, broadcasters will have the option of disclosing material terms via the station’s website, the licensee’s website, or any publicly available website so long as they mention on-air the “direct website address” where the terms are located each time the contest is advertised.  The NPRM clarifies that “direct website address” means the address that will take a listener or viewer directly to the web page where the contest terms are posted.  Thus, if a licensee posts a direct link to contest terms on its homepage, announcing the homepage address on-air will suffice to fulfill this disclosure requirement.  If, by contrast, a station posts contest rules on a sub-page or under a tab on its homepage, the proposal contained in the NPRM would require the licensee to include the full address of the sub-page or tabbed page in its on-air announcement.

In addition, the NPRM proposes that, if the material terms of a contest change after it is first announced, the licensee must announce on-air that the rules have changed and direct participants to the website to review the changes.  The Commission then asks for comment on how long this requirement should last after a change has occurs and whether it should require such an announcement each time the station mentions the contest.  In addition, the item seeks comment on whether “any changes to the [contest] rule to improve the effectiveness of broadcasting material contest terms” should be made for those licensees that choose to continue airing material terms on-air rather than posting them online.

The NPRM seeks comment on a number of other issues, including:

  • Whether the Commission should specify the format for contest disclosures posted online;
  • Whether the Commission should require a link on a station’s homepage to the contest terms;
  • How long a licensee should be required to maintain contest information on a website;
  • Whether it is necessary to require licensees to set apart or distinguish contest terms deemed “material” from other contest information or whether posting all of a contest’s terms online should fulfill the “material term” requirement; and
  • Whether or to what extent the Commission should refine the definition of “material” given the proposed change to the Contest Rule.

In separate statements accompanying the item, the Chairman and all four Commissioners supported the move to modernize the contest rule.  For example, Chairman Wheeler noted that “[r]evising the Contest Rule in a way that reflects how the public accesses and consumes information in the 21st Century only makes sense.”  Commissioner Clyburn remarked that broadcasters should be allowed to post contest rules online “given today’s consumption patterns,” and that implementing this change “will help interested participants find contest information they may have missed over the air in a place where they are bound to discover it: on the internet.”  Commissioner Rosenworcel similarly recognized that “when it comes to media and communications, in 2014 we are in a whole new world,” and that “it’s time for broadcasters to be able to use 21st century tools to carry out their public interest obligations with respect to on air contests.”  Likewise, Commissioner Pai observed that “the world has changed in the many years since” adoption of the rule, and that “the rule should reflect the digital world in which we live.”  And Commissioner O’Rielly, who previously authored a blog post supporting action on the rulemaking petition that precipitated the NPRM, stated his view that “[i]t is just plain common sense and a reflection of the current marketplace to allow broadcasters to announce a website where viewers and listeners can go, at any time, to review these rules, instead of doing so on air.”

Comments are due 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.  Reply Comments are due 90 days after publication.

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