FTC's Lost Rule: Screen Measurement


Here’s an outlaw gang that doesn’t exactly strike fear in hearts of peaceable citizens: Sony, RCA, Best Buy, Circuit City … and just about any other TV manufacturer or retailer that has done business in the U.S. in the past four decades. The misbehavior recently came to light only after the Federal Trade Commission, during a routine every-10-years review of its guidelines, looked into what is known as the “picture tube rule.”

The rule, which has been on the books since 1966, dictates how TV sets are advertised, and requires that the size of sets listed in ads, store displays and packaging be based on the screen’s horizontal measurement. The FTC’s intent was to ensure consumers had consistent specifications for comparing models. And they do—but the problem is that, for as long as anyone in the business can remember, sets have been consistently sold according to their diagonal measurement. So a 36-inch spec represents the distance between a lower corner and the upper corner on the opposite side. It also represents a more impressive-sounding sales tool: The horizontal measure on a standard-sized TV would be 28.8 inches. The matter “is not something we’ve paid a whole lot of attention to,” says Julie Kearney, regulatory counsel for the Consumer Electronics Association.
The CEA is asking the FTC to rewrite the rule and require diagonal measurements instead.
The association helpfully noted that both the FCC and the U.S. Trade Representative rely on diagonal measurements in rules governing technical specs and imports of television sets.