Time for a Change in the FCC's Contest Rule?

Entercom proposes that required disclosure of licensee-conducted contest rules be made on-line, rather than over-the-air.

The promotions department at KOST (and at least some other Clear Channel stations) should be sending “thank you” notes to the folks at Entercom Communications Corp. As we reported just last week, KOST was recently spanked to the tune of $22K for violating the FCC’s contest rule (Section 73.1216) in part by failing to broadcast all the material terms of a contest it was running on its website. (The fact that KOST was a recidivist violator of the contest rule didn’t help it much.) 

But now Entercom (which owns more than 100 radio stations) has filed its own petition for rulemaking asking the Commission to bring the contest disclosure requirement into sync with “how the majority of Americans access and consume information in the 21st century.”  That would be the Worldwide Web, of course. 

According to Entercom, “Americans expect to instantly access information at their fingertips by merely logging on to a website”. That being the case, if the FCC wants to be sure that potential contest participants are advised of the contest’s rules, it should be enough that those rules be available on-line.  Any required over-the-air disclosures can thus be limited to announcements that full contest rules are available on station websites.  (Any web-averse Luddites out there can be taken care of on request by e-mail or fax.)

As Entercom observes, the current broadcast requirement is hit-and-miss: not all contest rules are broadcast all the time, so it’s not clear that any would-be contestant is ever going to hear all (or even any) contest rules on the air. And even if a would-be contestant does hear some rules, there’s no guarantee that that individual will fully comprehend the rules because (as Entercom delicately frames the issue) “the listening environment for radio varies widely among listeners.” Of course, the contest rule applies equally to radio and television licensees, but Entercom sees radio as particularly hard-hit by the rule in its current form.

Entercom also points out that the Commission’s insistence on over-the-air announcement of contest rules (as opposed to website posting) appears inconsistent with the Commission’s own increasing reliance on electronic filing.

The FCC hasn’t invited public comment on the petition yet, a step that would ordinarily occur before the Commission would formally propose adoption of the suggestion. At this point, we have no idea whether the Commission would be inclined to embrace Entercom’s proposal – particularly because the existing contest rule has, through the forfeiture process, provided a nice revenue stream into the Commission’s coffers. (In fairness to the Commission, we don’t really know for sure that such crass pecuniary considerations would inevitably come into play here.)  We also suspect that some smaller radio stations won’t like the idea of having to e-mail or fax rules on request.  But rattling off a bunch of rules on the air is plainly tedious for broadcaster and listener alike. And why should anyone suffer that tedium when that exercise does not achieve the supposed goal of the exercise – i.e., publicizing the contest rules – because the FCC has never said exactly when, and how often, contest rules are required to be aired?

Check back here for updates – if the FCC invites comments on the Entercom petition, we’ll let you know.

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