Children's Channels Settle With FCC Over Ad Violations

Cable TV channels owned by Viacom Inc. and International Family Entertainment have agreed to settle allegations that they violated federal advertising restrictions for children's programming, U.S. reg

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) -- Cable TV channels owned by Viacom Inc. and International Family Entertainment have agreed to settle allegations that they violated federal advertising restrictions for children's programming, U.S. regulators said Oct. 21.

Viacom's Nickelodeon Channel will pay $1 million and the IFE's ABC Family Channel will turn over $500,000 to resolve "potential violations" found during Federal Communications Commission audits conducted in the last quarter of 2003.

The FCC raised concerns that Nickelodeon had exceeded limits on the duration of advertising during children's programs, and by running advertisements that were tied to characters or products in the same programs. The agency said IFE may have violated the tying rule.

Nickelodeon said in a statement that it was "extremely upset" to find it had overrun its allotted advertising at times and blamed the problem on computer and record-keeping errors.

FCC regulations limit children's programming to 12 minutes of advertising per hour during weekdays and 10.5 minutes on weekends. It prohibits channels from advertising products or using characters that are associated with the programs.

"While the vast majority of our programming hours were well under the FCC commercial allotments, we take full responsibility for any errors and have initiated new procedures to help ensure this will not happen again," Viacom said.

A spokeswoman for ABC Family said it had accidentally violated the ban on running program-related commercials because of a problem with its computer system which has since been modified.

Spokeswoman Nicole Nichols said ABC Family had "derived no economic benefit" from the mistake.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the settlements should put all cable operators, satellite television providers and broadcasters on notice that the agency would vigorously enforce the 1990 Children's Television Act.

Powell said Nickelodeon and ABC Family Channel are hugely popular with children and reach in excess of 85 million households.

"The consent decrees entered into today will not only help protect children who watch these cable channels, but will have a much broader impact," Powell said in a statement.

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