FCC Fines ESPN, Viacom $1.4M For Improper Use Of Emergency Alert Tones

Hearing the emergency alert warning tones blaring from your television typically makes you take immediate notice (and immediately hit the Mute button). So when a broadcaster allows a commercial or program to air similar sounds without an actual emergency occurring, they could be on the receiving end of a pretty big fine from federal regulators.

Just ask Viacom and ESPN, which were fined $1.4 million yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission for misuse of Emergency Alert System warnings.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the FCC demanded ESPN pay $280,000 and Viacom pay $1.2 million in fines stemming from a 2013 incident in which the media companies aired a commercial for the movie “Olympus Has Fallen,” that contained emergency alert tones.

By broadcasting the trailer for the film, which centers around a terrorist attack on Washington, D.C., the companies were in violation of FCC laws that prohibit the transmission of warning tones except during an emergency or system test.

“The public relies on this system to prepare them for real emergencies,” Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “Our action here sends a strong signal that use of the [Emergency Alert System] tones for non-emergency purposes presents a danger to public safety, which we will not tolerate.”

The fines levied against the companies were calculated based on the time the movie trailer ran and the number of channels that carried the commercial, the L.A. Times reports.

Back in 2013, the FCC launched an investigation into the use of the Emergency Alert System tones in the movie trailer after it was aired by Viacom, ESPN and NBC Universal.

Last spring the FCC proposed a fine of $1.93 million be split between the three media companies to settle the investigation. While Comcast Corporation’s NBCUniversal paid its $530,000 portion of the fine, ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., and Viacom asked for reductions to their shares.

On Tuesday, the FCC rejected the two company’s arguments and voted unanimously to impose the fine.

A Viacom spokesperson tells the L.A. Times that the company believes the enforcement action and fine were unwarranted, and that they are considering next steps. ESPN declined comment on the issue.

The two companies have until February 20 to pay the fines.

FCC fines Viacom, ESPN $1.4 million for emergency alert misuse
[The Los Angeles Times]