Children’s Commerical Limits Reminder

Posted on November 22nd, 2013 by

These days, the FCC issues fines on a weekly basis to television stations that have not filed, or not timely filed, the quarterly FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Report, which is designed to ensure that stations are airing at least a minimum of 3 hours/week of informational/educational programming for children under the age of 16.  But every now and again, a different kind of children’s television issue rears its head – ones that restrict the inclusion of certain types and amounts of commercial matter in programming directed to children that are 12 years old and younger.  The primary rule there limits the amount of commercial matter that can be aired during such programs to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends, and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.  There are at least two trap doors with that rule.  The first is that an entire children’s program can become “commercial matter” if the program is associated with a product during which commercials for that product are aired.  The second involves host-selling, where program-related characters are used to promote any product during the airing of the program.    Tricky to apply?  Yes.  Well, here is one application of the host selling trap door that helps to eliminate the trickiness.

 A TV station license renewal applicant disclosed that a Cocoa Pebbles commercial aired during the Xiaolin Showdown program contained glimpses of characters from the program on the screen.  The licensee admitted that it might have violated the FCC’s children’s television advertising rules, but argued that the characters actually appeared in the commercial during a segment that addressed a contest, as apposed to a “promotional” segment of the commercial.  The FCC did not like that distinction, but issued an admonition instead of a monetary forfeiture, and renewed the station’s license for a full 8-year term. 

 In finding that the circumstances constituted “host-selling,” the FCC repeated earlier statements that “host-selling encompasses any character endorsement – not just direct vocal appeals – that has the effect of confusing a child viewer from distinguishing between program and non-program material.”  Even “advertisements featuring the same type of animation that are regularly featured in the accompanying program constitutes host-selling.”