FCC Updates To The Contest Rules Better For Broadcasters, Viewers

November 13, 2015

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On September 17 of this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated its Contest Rule, allowing broadcasters to post contest “rules and regulations” solely online if they want. Adopted in 1976, the Contest Rule previously required broadcasters to show the rules on air (although extremely small print was quite acceptable) for television. Radio broadcasters were forced to have announcers read the rules on air.

An Important Rule, but Historically Problematic

The idea, of course, was to ensure audience members understood the rules of the contest and odds of winning before spending time or money trying to win.

The FCC’s goal to protect consumers was valid, but in practice, the Contest Rule had issues. Radio announcers would state the rules on air but it was never guaranteed that the audience would be able to write all of the rules down or fully comprehend them.

Then there were the TV ads, flashing the rules and regulations in print so small only a mosquito could read it for roughly two seconds. Not only were audience members still uninformed, but broadcasters had to deal with an influx of inquiries from people who didn’t understand the rules.

Most Rule-Reading Has Been Happening Online for Years Anyway

It’s little wonder that once the internet became mainstream in the late nineties, broadcasters started posting rules online, in addition to hurriedly rushing through them on air. For the last decade, anyone interested in reading the legalese—or suffering from insomnia—would probably go straight to the broadcaster’s website for rules about a particular contest.

So What Does This Mean for Broadcasters?

The upshot of the FCC’s decision is an improvement in entertainment quality for audience members, and less time wasted on illegible graphics for TV stations. Broadcasters only have to tell the audience where rules can be found online.

In television ads, rules and regulations often filled much of the lower third of the screen, prime real estate for station logos or related advertising (“Shop at Joe’s Mini-Mart for additional chances to win!”). A website address for contest rules can be delivered in one line, leaving much of the lower third of the screen free for other uses. Radio advertisers can now use almost the entire time slot for the spot (30 seconds, 60 seconds, etc.) to talk about the contest or related products. “Contest rules can be found at www…” can be read in less than five seconds, while auctioneer-style rule announcements used to suck up ten seconds or more, depending on the contest.

How to Make the Most of the New Legislation

It’s still important to make it clear where rules can be found; confusing viewers or rushing through an overly long address will only lead to phone calls and emails that take up the staff’s time, plus viewers might get annoyed or complain on your social media pages. A link on the station’s website is the easiest idea—the URL is probably not excessively long, and consumers can easily Google “WXYZ TV” if they can’t remember it. Make sure the link is very visible on your home page so viewers don’t have to hunt for it.

Posting links on your social media once a day or more is also helpful. Or you can make a page for the contest itself, either posting a link to the rules or adding the rules to the page’s description itself. Contest pages are also good places to answer questions and keep viewers engaged with the contest, so make sure your station’s social media handler keeps up with it. If questions come up frequently that aren’t clearly addressed by the rules (and sometimes legalese is hard for the average person to understand), you can make a FAQ section to address them.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]