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FCC Moves to Bring Contest Rules Out of the ’70s

Proposes to allow stations to direct listeners, viewers online for rules

With a unanimous vote, the FCC today issued a rulemaking to update the broadcast contest rules.

Essentially, the commissioners intend to give broadcasters a choice of meeting their contest rules disclosure obligation by posting contest rules on a website or, by continuing to provide those on-air. Among other things, they would be required to announce the website address where their contest information can be found each time they mention a contest on-air.

Chairman Tom Wheeler remembers when the commission adopted the rules in 1976, when “there was lots of front-page coverage about scandals.”

Commissioner Ajit Pai said the change “would ease the burden currently imposed on broadcasters.” He characterized what stations have to do now, read contest rules on-air as “not compelling content” and there’s evidence many in the audience change channels when rules are read on-air.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly blogged in favor of the change over the summer; “Posting such material online would allow listeners the opportunity to actually read and digest the contest rules (i.e., available 24 hours a day) and determine how best to participate,” wrote O’Rielly.

Today, O’Rielly urged quick action. “We shouldn’t allow the item to languish in the NPRM stage for one day longer than necessary.”

Entercom Communications filed a Petition for Rulemaking on changing the contest notification rules in 2012. The FCC put that out for comment and received no opposition, according to O’Rielly, who noted the 17 respondents highlighted the value of displaying contest rules online and the need to quickly move forward.

Broadcasters have long supported the change, including NAB and NPR, among others. NPR said at the time that periodic announcements “are not as effective as online, written disclosures,” and requiring on-air contest rules announcements “detracts from the stations’ service to their communities.”