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FCC to Consider Updating Contest Rules

Entercom originally proposed putting rules online, and off-air

The FCC intends to vote on modernizing its contest rules in its open meeting later this month. Readers may recall that Entercom petitioned for a change two years ago, asking the agency to allow radio and TV stations to post contest rules online.

Currently, the rules must be announced on-air, leading to a long explanation that turns off listeners and viewers, according to stations.

In its original petition, Entercom said it’s time to allow stations to place their contest rules on the web, or disseminate them elsewhere off-air, such as via email, Fax, mail or in-person. Entercom suggested their proposal is in line with “how the majority of Americans access and consume information in the 21st century and [would provide] relief to radio from mandated program content that is counterproductive and not the most effective way to achieve the purposes of the contest rule.”

The so-called contest rules were enacted to make sure stations conducted contests in a fair manner “in light of certain abusive contest practices the FCC observed in the 1960s and 1970s,” stated the broadcaster, which observes that television can more easily insert text at the bottom of the screen to fulfill the requirement. Radio, on the other hand, must interrupt programming to fulfill the requirement, which drives away listeners.

The NAB agrees with Entercom, noting that the contest rules stem from 1976, when there were no fax machines, no email, no Internet, no smartphones and no convenient way to communicate the terms to broadcast audiences other than on-air.

NPR also supports the concept, noting in 2012 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.”

Commissioner Michael O’Reilly also supports a voluntary change, so stations can decide whether to continue airing the contest rules or move them online. The update “should make complying with the rules easier for broadcasters and consumers, not more difficult,” noted O’Rielly this June.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has put a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking “to give broadcasters greater flexibility in their disclosure of contest terms” on the Nov. 21 agenda. If passed, that gives broadcast owners time to give the agency their input on any changes.