FCC ups the ante for children’s TV commercial overages


The FCC filled its paddy wagon with television stations which went over the limit on allowable commercial time during programming aimed at children. It wasn’t a dragnet – the stations essentially and commendably ratted themselves out in all candor when renewing their licenses, but the FCC opted to ratchet up the fines for the violations.

Stations are limited to 12 minutes of advertising per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends when airing children’s programming. All but two of the seven stations pulled over by the FCC confessed to over 100 violations, and fines ranged from $25K to $70K, and totaling $270K.

The FCC said that the base fine for this violation was $8K, but noted it had leeway in adjusting the fine upward or downward according to “the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the violation and, with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and such other matters as justice may require.”

It explained, “This represents an increase over the forfeiture assessed for comparable violations in previous renewal cycles. Given the numerous violations of the children’s TV commercial limits in recent years, it appears that the forfeiture amounts assessed previously have not had a sufficient deterrent effect. Thus, where, as here, a case presents violations that are comparable to violations reported in an earlier renewal cycle, we are raising the forfeiture levels to strengthen the deterrent effect.”

Media General and Cox were hit twice each, and Belo, Hearst-Argyle and ACME were also nabbed in the bust.
Here are details on the seven stations:

* $70K: Belo’s KSKN Spokane WA (CW), 86 violations, but all were full-length commercial violations due to the appearance of an ad featuring a character in the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” show.

* $45K: ACME’s WBDT Dayton OH (CW, licensed to Springfield OH), 164 violations.

* $40K: Cox’s WFTV Orlando FL (ABC), 154 violations

* $30K: Media General’s WJTV Jackson MS (CBS), 124 violations

* $30K: Media General’s WHLT Hattiesburg-Laurel MS (CBS, licensed to Hattiesburg), 127 violations.

* $30K: Hearst-Argyle’s WCVB Boston MA (ABC), 106 violations.

* $25K: Cox’s WSOC Charlotte NC (ABC), 78 violations.

RBR-TVBR observation: The FCC says it ratcheted the fines up from the $8K base, but we suppose if it wanted to, it could have hit each of these stations for $8K per violation, which would be a huge increase – it would take WBDT all the way to $1.312M, and the least-penalized, WSOC, all the way to $624K.

In most cases, the violations were measured in seconds, so the FCC is correct in viewing these as systemic problems rather than a series of actions intended to flaunt the rules.

But these are still hefty fines, and stations would do well to make sure they are following the letter of the law in this matter. No point in paying even $8K.