Enforcement Bureau finds liability for Comcast in VNR use

The FCC Enforcement Bureau Sept. 21 found that Comcast violated a section of commission rules prohibiting cable operators from concealing sponsorship identification “when presenting matter in return for money, service or other valuable consideration.”

The bureau found that Comcast regional cable network CN8 used portions of a video news release (VNR) produced for Nelson’s Rescue Sleep as part of a segment on a consumer issues show “without also airing required sponsorship identification announcements,” the bureau said in its Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture.

In November 2006, two groups complained to the FCC that CN8 had aired a VNR produced by D.S. Simon Productions for Nelson’s Rescue Sleep without providing the required sponsorship notice to viewers. In April, the bureau issued a letter or inquiry into the matter.

Comcast responded in July saying that the Communications Act, which underlies the commission rule, applies to broadcasters, not cablecasters. Even if the rules were to apply to cablecasters, Comcast said, sponsorship identification was not required because it did not receive nor was promised “any consideration from any source” in exchange for airing the VNR material.

In its notice, the bureau said commission rules “make clear that when a cable television system operator engages in origination cablecasting, it must identify the sponsor of a material whenever that operator accepts ‘money, service or other valuable consideration’ to air the material.’” While the rule exempts service or property in connection with its reasonable identification, “the proviso reinstates the duty when there is too much focus on a product or brand name in the programming,” it said.

The VNR material used in segment contained “extensive images and mentions of the product,” the bureau said. Additionally, it objected to a sentence in the segment — “If you are one of the estimated 70 million Americans who have trouble sleeping — Rescue Sleep may be what you’re looking for.”

The bureau said “this type” of promotional material “can or should be considered within the scope of the proviso.”

The bureau found Comcast liable for a $4000 forfeiture. Comcast has the right within 30 days to submit in writing to the commission its reasons why no forfeiture should be imposed. Once the commission reviews the response, it will issue a decision on whether to impose the forfeiture.

For more information, visit www.fcc.gov.