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O’Rielly: Bring Contest Rules Online

Commissioner supports stations being able to get contest rule announcements off-air

Broadcasters have long said that announcers reading contest rules at the end of promos clutters their airwaves and drives listeners and viewers away. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wants the FCC to do something about that and calls for updating the contest rule.

O’Rielly says the commission should allow broadcasters to substitute on-air contest notifications with instructions to visit a website for more information. For radio, he’s referring to the rapid-fire rules typically announced at the end of the promo, and small print displayed at the end of the promo for TV.

“Posting such material online would allow viewers the opportunity to actually read and digest the contest rules (i.e., available 24 hours a day) and determine how best to participate,” writes O’Rielly in his blog. “Internet publication also allows broadcasters to provide a more complete description of the contest, update it as necessary, and significantly reduce the instances that could lead to FCC enforcement actions.”

The change would better implement the intent of the contest rule, designed to “require licensees who conduct broadcast contests to take certain steps to assure that they are promoted and conducted properly,” according to the commissioner. The current version of the rule stems from 1976.

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

NPR was one of those who supported the concept. The broadcaster said in its comments 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.”

To be clear, O’Rielly says his support for changing this portion of the contest rule to accommodate Internet notifications “should not be read as an encouragement to initiate broader notification mandates.” Further, the change would be voluntary for stations, so they could 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,” notes O’Rielly.