In an Order (the “Order”) released Friday afternoon, the FCC has waived its sponsorship identification requirement with respect to a limited, unique subset of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) during the COVID-19 emergency. The Commission’s waiver of the sponsorship identification requirement is narrow in scope; please read the following information carefully to understand the Order’s limitations.
The Commission states that, as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated social distancing requirements, suspension of regular business operations, and cancellation of events, many advertisers have determined they no longer benefit from the commercial advertising time they had previously purchased from broadcast television and radio stations (for example, because they have suspended ordinary business operations, or they find that the planned advertising is no longer appropriate under the circumstances). Further, the FCC explains that many of these advertisers, in order to make productive use of the previously purchased advertising time, are seeking to donate the time for the purpose of broadcasting COVID-19 PSAs from various governmental authorities.
The Commission’s Order waives the sponsorship identification requirement for PSAs that fit these specific, unique circumstances. In other words, specifically, the Commission is waiving the sponsorship identification requirement on PSAs that:
· address the COVID-19 pandemic; and
· were prepared by, or are being broadcast on behalf of, a governmental agency or public health authority; and
· are being broadcast using airtime that is donated by a commercial advertiser that previously purchased the time.
Under the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules, such a donation of time would ordinarily require those PSAs to contain the name of the entity who originally purchased and is now donating the time—i.e., the advertiser that previously purchased the time with the intent to air a commercial advertisement.
The Order notes that requiring a traditional sponsorship ID tag for donated time relating to qualifying COVID-19 PSAs could simultaneously (1) undermine the public’s trust in the PSAs given that they might not associate the PSAs with the governmental or public health authorities charged with providing reliable information about the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) dissuade the donation of such time by advertisers because commercial entities may not wish to have their names or logos associated with the provision of information about COVID-19.
Accordingly, the Order determines that:
the public interest, convenience, and necessity would be best served by encouraging entities that have previously purchased advertising time but can no longer use it to donate such time for the broadcast of COVID-19-related PSAs. The use of such donated advertising time could allow for the broadcast of numerous additional PSAs to the community during this national emergency and provide life-saving information to the public.
To reiterate: the Order appears to waive the sponsorship identification rules only for the specific types of PSAs and in the specific circumstances outlined above. All other PSAs (and material aired in exchange for something of value) must continue to include an appropriate sponsorship ID. Please contact your communications counsel with any questions as to how the Order may apply to your station’s particular factual circumstances.