One TV station, four programs, 90 seconds, $8 thousand dollars


Commercials on children’s programs featuring products which have program stars on the packaging, or the depiction a character-laden website, present fertile ground for running afoul of the FCC’s limits on children’s commercial loads. Sinclair’s WVTV Milwaukee found out the hard way.

If a character in a program shows up in a commercial on the program, the program instantly is treated as a full-length commercial, propelling it well over the commercial limit.

WVTV was showing Pokemon, for example, and a commercial for a Gameboy product showed obscured Pokemon cards for just over one second. Only the letters “mon” were visible, but nonetheless that was all it took for the entire program to be considered a commercial.

In another instance, a cereal box being advertised just happened to have a picture of one of the characters in the show currently running on it. Bingo – another full length commercial.

One instance, involving a brief reference to a characters of a program on a website, during a commercial advertising another brand of cereal, in which the reference had nothing to do with the cereal, was considered to be “host-selling” rather than a full length commercial.

That was a benevolent ruling to the tune of $4K. Thanks to that switch in definition, the FCC lowered the total fine levied on the station from $12K to $8K. But watch what’s in those commercials – right down to the millisecond.