TV Stations & Radios Can Now Just Tell You To Go Online For Contest Rules

In 1976, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the so-called “Contest Rule,” which sought to increase transparency in on-air contests by requiring that TV and radio broadcasters disclose the terms of the contest over the air. And even though there have been huge technological and cultural changes in the nearly 40 years since, allowing shows to also put their rules online, broadcasters must still explain them on air. That’s about to change.

This morning, the FCC adopted new rules that would give broadcasters the option of disclosing contest rules online without showing them on TV or explaining them over the radio — often in fine print or in words spoken so quickly they can be hard to make out.

Rather than air the rules, shows will only be required make on-air announcements about where contest terms can be found. It does not require that the rules be placed online, but most broadcasters are already making these terms available through their websites anyway.

That’s a big departure from the existing rule § 73.1216 [PDF], which explains a broadcaster’s obligation to disclose the contest terms “at the time the audience is first told how to enter or participate,” and states that these rules “should be disclosed periodically by announcements broadcast on the station conducting the contest, but need not be enumerated each time an announcement promoting the contest is broadcast.”

With an increasing number of people having ready access to the Internet, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called for the Commission to review the decades-old rule to give broadcasters the online option.

“I agree that it is important to notify the public about the terms and conditions of the contests aired on broadcast stations,” he wrote at the time, “but are these fast-talkers and tiny, on-air print the most effective means to communicate this information in the Internet age?”

Then last November, the FCC began process of revising the Contest Rule. The proposal [PDF] was supported by all the commissioners, who all agreed on the need to modernize the contest disclosure process.

“The FCC began this rulemaking in response to the dramatic changes that have occurred in the way Americans obtain information since the Contest Rule was adopted almost four decades ago,” reads a statement from the Commission. “The rule changes give broadcast stations more flexibility in the way they comply with the Contest Rule, and give consumers a more convenient way to obtain contest information normally aired through television and radio advertisements.”

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