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Nick, ABC Family to Pay Fines

Oct 25, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Making clear that children’s TV programming on cable is now on the Federal Communications Commission’s radar screen, the agency last week announced that Viacom’s Nickelodeon and The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Family Channel had agreed to pay $1 million and $500,000, respectively, as part of consent decrees ending agency investigations into whether the companies violated federal children’s TV rules.

Under the FCC’s regulations, television programming for children-whether it originates on cable, satellite or broadcasting-should not include more than 101/2 minutes of advertising per hour on weekends or more than 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. Ads for products associated with the children’s TV shows are also specifically barred.

But in the wake of investigations that the FCC launched on its own initiative, Nickelodeon last week conceded running afoul of the children’s TV prohibitions hundreds of times during the past year. ABC Family Channel conceded airing commercials for products associated with children’s TV shows on 31 half-hour episodes.

According to representatives of both companies, the violations were inadvertent.

“We were extremely upset to discover that we exceeded our allotted commercial time due to human errors and computer system problems that occurred in our commercial logging systems,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “We did not intentionally violate the FCC rules, and we sincerely apologize for this mistake. 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.”

In a separate statement, ABC Family blamed a glitch in its computer traffic system. “Once we became aware of the mistake, we did a thorough, voluntary review of our operation and have since revised our computer system to prevent future errors,” ABC Family said. “We derived no economic benefit from the error, as these commercials were never sold for placement in related shows.”

The fact that the consent decrees involve cable programming is significant for the industry because previous FCC-initiated audits of children’s TV programming practices have focused exclusively on broadcast programming, not cable.

Said FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in a statement: “The consent decrees entered into today will not only help protect children who watch these cable channels but will have a much broader impact. All cable operators, DBS providers, commercial television broadcasters and companies that provide children’s programming should know that we will vigorously enforce our children’s advertising limits. We will continue to take swift and appropriate enforcement action to protect the interests of children.”