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Commissioners on Contest Rules: It’s About Time

Process now reflects how listeners access information in the digital age

In changing the FCC’s contest rules, the commission has taken steps to improve access to information and ease burdens on radio stations.

It’s also, perhaps, delivered us all from the auditory onslaught delivered by a fast-talking pitchman, possibly assisted by audio processing, who can speed through a list of radio station contest rules in a profligate 30-second spiel.

Eliciting laughs from the audience, Commissioner Ajit Pai attempted to replicate that silver-tongued contest pitch during a speech Thursday morning. He and the rest of the commission approved a new report and order on station contest rules.

“Now, instead of trudging through each and every contest rule on air, a broadcaster can simply refer listeners to a publicly accessible website,” Pai said. Not only is this kind of flexibility good for broadcasters, posting contest rules online is good for interested consumers, he said.

“Critically, this change is consistent with the basic purposes of our Contest Rule, which is for broadcasters to provide full and accurate disclosures of contest terms and to conduct contests substantially as announced or advertised,” he said.

Chairman Michael O’Rielly concurred and stressed the importance of flexibility. The order approved on Thursday clarifies that stations may disclose the material terms of a contest on air or in writing on a publicly accessible website.

“The key word there is flexibility, and I appreciate that this order takes the flexible approach of allowing rather than requiring Internet disclosure of contest rules,” O’Rielly said. “This update should make complying with the rules easier for broadcasters, not more difficult.”

O’Rielly added that he hopes to see even more work done to modernize the FCC’s broadcast rules. “I would like to see some work on sponsorship ID and some other fronts that will help in small- and medium-size [markets],” he said.

The smooth adoption of the order — without much of the back and forth wrangling that has accompanied many recent commission discussions — may be due in part to the clear need to modernize the rules while still preserving the order’s core requirements. The order also adopts related implementing rules, including the requirement that broadcasters periodically announce over the air the Website address where their contest rules can be found.

“This is progress and it reflects how we access information in the digital age,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC began this rulemaking in response to the changes that have occurred in the way Americans obtain information since the contest rules were adopted nearly four decades ago.