Whopping Fine for Children’s TV Commercial Limits Violations

Posted on September 29th, 2022 by

If your television station does not have clear review protocols set up to screen children’s programming for commercial limits compliance before airing, the FCC’s recent Notice of Apparent Liability will surely prompt you to clarify or adopt them now.

The children’s television commercial limits rule restricts the amount of commercial matter that may be aired during children’s programming to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.  In addition, a program associated with a product, in which commercials for that product are aired, is treated as a program-length commercial with the entire program counted as commercial time.  Full power and Class A commercial television stations must verify compliance with the limits and upload an annual commercial limits certification to their public inspection file.

In this case, Sinclair, Nexstar and other television stations aired a commercial for Hot Wheels Super Ultimate Garage during eight 30-minute episodes of Team Hot Wheels.  Sinclair disclosed this violation in its renewal applications for 82 stations. Other stations that aired the episodes disclosed the violation in renewal applications, while some did not.

The FCC’s notice of apparent liability seeks to fine Sinclair $2,652,000 — $32,000 for each station – citing the occurrence of the overages over an extended period of time, program-length commercial time, inadequate claim of simple inadvertence, and lack of an adequate compliance plan to avoid such overages.  Separately, the FCC fined Nexstar stations $26,000 per station, and other owners $20,000 per station.  The fact that the commercials were embedded in programming provided by others was insufficient to escape liability. The NAL with all exhibits is 31 pages long.

The worst time to find out about a commercial limits violation – especially one that results in an entire program being counted as commercial matter – is after the fact and/or at renewal time.  Commercial limits violations are high on the FCC’s radar and will not be excused without some action being taken.  Having a thorough compliance gameplan that is periodically reviewed and cross-checked is key.

While the required certification of children’s television commercial limits is now an annual requirement instead of quarterly, such programs should be continuously reviewed for compliance.  Stations should not wait to review compliance until the end of the year.  Relying on a certification from a program provider is not enough – stations will not be excused by stating they didn’t know or were relying on a third-party certification in making their own.  If an overage occurs, the station will pay for it one way or another.  As with any FCC regulatory requirement, vigilance is critical.  Review your compliance controls today to avoid headache in the future.