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Introducing the Internet to the FCC’s Contest Rule

by: Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner

June 16, 2014

Have you ever listened to your car radio while you were stuck in traffic and heard a super-fast talker rattle off the rules that apply to a contest for a trip to some sunny destination?  Or, maybe you’ve seen the small print displayed at the end of a contest promoted on television.  These detailed disclosures—such as who is eligible for a contest, how to participate, the value of the prizes, and when and how winners will be selected—are efforts to comply with the FCC’s “Contest Rule.”  I agree that it is important to notify the public about the terms and conditions of the contests aired on broadcast stations, but are these fast-talkers and tiny, on-air print the most effective means to communicate this information in the Internet age?  I suggest there is a better way.

We should consider updating the Contest Rule to allow broadcasters to substitute their current, on-air contest notifications with simple instructions to visit a specific website for more information.  Posting such material online would allow viewers the opportunity to actually read and digest the contest rules (i.e., available 24 hours a day) and determine how best to participate.  Internet publication also allows broadcasters to provide a more complete description of the contest, update it as necessary, and significantly reduce the instances that could lead to FCC enforcement actions.  Moreover, this change would better effectuate the original intent of the Contest Rule, which was designed to “require licensees who conduct broadcast contests to take certain steps to assure that they are promoted and conducted properly.”

As a way to proceed, the Commission may want to consider the Petition for Rulemaking filed by Entercom Communications Corp. in January 2012.  This petition was put out for comment in November 2012 and received no opposition.  Rather, the 17 commenters highlighted the value of displaying contest rules online and the need to move forward expeditiously.  Specifically, National Public Radio stated in its filing that:

“NPR and NPR member stations frequently host contests as a way of deepening audience engagement and as a way of generating content for online or broadcast distribution…. By their very nature, periodic broadcast announcements are not as effective as online, written disclosures…. Ultimately, requiring on-air disclosures, especially where the efficacy is limited, detracts from the stations’ service to their communities.”

To be clear, my general support for modifying the Contest Rule to accommodate Internet notifications should not be read as an encouragement to initiate broader notification mandates. Any changes the FCC might adopt here should be limited to updating the current rule and be accordingly narrow in scope.

More importantly, no broadcaster should be forced to change from their current practices. While I suspect that if the Commission makes these changes, most broadcasters would take advantage of the Internet option, those wishing to broadcast contest rules should be allowed to continue to do so. This update should make complying with the rules easier for broadcasters and consumers, not more difficult.

In the end, small changes to our Contest Rule could improve consumer notice and options for broadcaster compliance. Perhaps I should run a contest: the winner will be the person who accurately predicts how long it takes for this proposal to be adopted.

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