FCC Adopts On-Line Contest Rules

The FCC has updated its contest rules to enable broadcasters to post material terms on-line rather than requiring disclosure through over-the-air announcements.

Licensees still retain the option to disclose material contest terms through “a reasonable number” of periodic announcements. But now an alternative is provided to post the rules on any publicly-accessible website, whether or not it is the licensee’s own. The FCC considers a website to be publicly accessible if it is designed to be available 24/7, for free and without any registration requirement. However, if on-line posting is used, then an announcement of the availability of material terms on the website and its Internet address must be given “periodically.” The FCC has not defined that word, leaving the frequency of announcements to licensee discretion.

There is no change in the “material terms” of a contest that are to be disclosed. These continue to comprise all factors that define the operation of a contest or that affect participation. Generally included are how to enter and participate, eligibility restrictions, deadlines, how winners are to be selected, and the extent, nature and value of prizes. The material terms that are posted must conform to those mentioned over the air (and, of course, to the manner in which the contest actually is conducted).

However, the FCC has expanded certain specific procedures that it had proposed last year:

• If Internet disclosure is used, the website address must be given in language that enables a typical consumer to easily locate the home page; the FCC gives as an example: “For contest rules, go to wxyz.com and the click on the contest tab.”
• Stations must establish a conspicuous link or tab to material contest terms on the home page of the website.
• The material terms must remain on the website for at least thirty days after the contest has concluded. The FCCsuggests that to avoid confusion expired contest rules should be labeled to make clear that a contest is over.
• Finally, during the course of a contest if any change is made to the material terms posted on a website, it must be disclosed on air within 24 hours and periodically thereafter, and those announcements must direct participants to the written disclosures on the website.

The Commission believes that the new approach is consistent with the ubiquity of the Internet nowadays and will provide more reliable information than sporadic broadcast announcements in a way that consumers have come to expect, while freeing up airtime for other purposes.

The new rules are to take effect following approval by the Office of Management and Budget which, in turn, will follow a public comment period. A complete copy of the FCC’s Report and Order, including the text of the modified contest rule, is available on the FCC’s website

Please contact MBA FCC Counsel Gregg Skall for more information.