FCC fines cablers Nickelodeon, ABC Family

WASHINGTON — Viacom has agreed to cough up an additional $1 million for federal broadcast violations.

This time around no wardrobe malfunctions or foul-mouthed shock jocks were involved. Instead, the Federal Communications Commission found that family-friendly Viacom subsidiary Nickelodeon broke the law by carrying too much advertising during kids programming.

ABC Family also was hit for violating restrictions on ads during children’s programming. Channel will pay $500,000.

“The consent decrees entered into today will not only help protect children who watch these cable channels but will have a much broader impact,” FCC topper Michael Powell said in a statement. “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.”

Federal law restricts the amount of commercial matter that can be aired during children’s programming to 10½ minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.

After a 10-month investigation, the FCC found that Nickelodeon violated time constraints on advertising in 591 instances, amounting to the equivalent of more than 1,000 30-second spots. During the same period, channel also broke the law by airing commercials for products associated with kids programs 145 times.

Agency found that ABC Family ran ads for unlawful product tie-ins 31 times, although it did not violate rules on advertising time limits.

Both companies blamed the violations on flawed internal procedures, human error and computer issues.

“We were extremely upset to discover that we exceeded our allotted commercial time,” Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler said. “We did not intentionally violate the FCC rules, and we sincerely apologize for this mistake.”

ABC Family spokeswoman Nicole Nichols said a computer traffic system mistakenly ignored the special children’s ad restrictions.

“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,” she said in a statement. “We derived no economic benefit from the error, as these commercials were never sold for placement in related shows.”

In addition to handing over the $1 million settlement, Viacom has agreed to reduce the time devoted to commercials over the next year by the same amount that exceeded the limits during the FCC investigation.

In announcing the settlement Thursday, the FCC noted that Nickelodeon aired fewer ads than the rules allow in 85% of the hours of airtime examined during its review.

“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,” Bittler said.

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