It may have been a government snow day Monday, but that did not stop the FCC from hammering Viacom, ESPN and NBCUniversal over what it says was misuse of emergency alert warnings to the tune of more than $2 million in proposed fines, with Viacom getting hit the hardest at more than $1 million.
The penalties stem from an ad the three aired repeatedly for the film Olympus Has Fallen that included Emergency Alert System warning tones that are only supposed to be used in a real emergency.
All three companies contested their liability for airing the tones in the movie trailer, but the FCC cited a recent spike in consumer complaints about simulated or actual EAS tones and said that the FCC has long prohibited their use in other than emergency situations, in part for the "cry wolf" element of desensitizing viewers to the importance of real tones.
It also pointed out that the infractions occurred over multiple days on multiple networks.
"Seven Viacom-owned networks transmitted the advertisement a total of 108 times over five days, resulting in a proposed forfeiture of $1,120,000," said the Media Bureau. "Three ESPN-owned networks transmitted the advertisement a total of 13 times over four days, resulting in a proposed forfeiture of $280,000. Finally, seven NBCUniversal-owned cable networks transmitted the advertisement a total of 38 times over a span of six days, resulting in a proposed forfeiture of $530,000."
The FCC takes the ability to pay into account when setting the fines, which it did in this case, pointing out each was a company with multiple billions in revenue. The FCC also can take into account a company's past compliance record, but said, without elaboration, that it found "nothing in the record or in the Companies' prior history of violations or compliance sufficient to reduce the proposed forfeiture amounts based on such factors."
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.