NAB Provides FCC With Online Contest Rules Do's and Don'ts

Latter includes one-size-fits-all online format
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The National Association of Broadcasters has told the FCC that it fully supports allowing broadcasters to put contest rules online instead of having to put them on-air, but it has cautioned against making too many changes to the format of those rules.

The FCC voted unanimously last November to allow for the change, but asked for input on how to do it. 

Broadcasters will be able to put contest rules on their station website, or a parent company website, or if they have neither, any publicly accessible website. They must broadcast the full Web address any time they promote or advertise the contest.

In comments on that decision, NAB had some definite ideas of what the FCC should and should not do. "While the Commission is proposing a shift in where contest rule disclosures are made, there is no reason to alter the substance of the current rules," NAB said.

What it should not do is prescribe any particular format for the online disclosures. "Fishing contests differ significantly from trivia contests, and a contest for a car, concert or Super Bowl tickets, or a cash prize will have distinctly different material terms," NAB said. "If anything, there would appear to be less need for strict standardization in the online environment."

Another no-no, said NAB, is specifying the length of time the material must remain available. Most notably, it said, "broadcasters should be permitted to remove contest terms from their websites as soon as a contest ends to avoid consumer confusion." But NAB said that no specific duration requirement is practical, again given the variety of contests.

NAB said the FCC should not require stations to broadcast the Web address of contest terms each time they mention or advertise a contest. NAB points out that contests may be mentioned in passing by talent multiple times in an hour—like the lead-in to a song on the radio or TV program, or in conversation. Under that scenario, it argues, broadcasters might have to air the address hundreds of times a day.

The FCC asked whether broadcasters should have to put the contest rules on a specific place on their websites. Again, NAB counsels flexibility. "While NAB agrees with the Commission that material contest terms must be easily accessible online, we urge the FCC to refrain from dictating specific locations on a licensee’s website."

What it should do, said NAB, is keep the definition of "material terms," which currently takes into account that those terms may vary widely and does not require "numerous boilerplate disclosures."

NAB does not ask the FCC to apply the contest rules to cable and satellite competitors currently under no similar reporting obligations, but it does point out the disparity and said allowing online notification only "starts to reduce the gulf that currently exists between how broadcasters and other media and telecommunications services are regulated in this area."