FCC to Let TV Stations Air Free Ads During Coronavirus

(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—Many local TV stations are attempting to help commercial advertisers that are being economically impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) by offering free ad space on-air. According to guidance from the FCC Media Bureau, such actions will not be penalized in regards to lowest unit charges during this national emergency.

The lowest unit charge relates to a political advertising regulation in the Communications Act of 1934. The law requires that broadcasters charge legally qualified candidates who advertise their campaigns on-air no more than the lowest unit charge for the same ad class and time.

As broadcasters have attempted to air free advertising for commercial customers that in some cases had to cancel their advertising contracts because of current financial issues related to the coronavirus, they were unsure whether or not those free ads would have to be part of the calculation for lowest unit charge.

Based on the current circumstances and what the FCC says is the public interest, broadcasters can exclude free time provided to commercial advertisers in the lowest unit charge, “provided the free time is not associated with an existing commercial contract for paid time or otherwise considered bonus spots,” says the FCC.

FCC does anticipate, however, that this will only be applicable during the current national emergency and is likely not to continue when normal conditions are restored.

“Broadcasters are committed to helping Main Street businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton in a statement regarding the FCC’s decision. “With this decision, the commission ensures that radio and TV stations won’t be penalized in our effort to support local jobs and local commerce. We thank the FCC for its flexibility in this proceeding and others as we work together to get American business back on its feet.”

The full FCC guidance (opens in new tab) is available online.