TBS Facing Hefty Fine Over Adult Swim Ad

The channel aired an ad that sounded like an emergency alert — and the FCC is none-too-pleased about it.

Rapper A$AP Rocky performs during Rihanna 'Diamonds' World Tour at Barclays Center on May 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn burough of New York City.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Jan. 16, 2014, midnight

The Turn­er Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem is fa­cing a steep fine for a com­mer­cial it aired last year on its Adult Swim chan­nel.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion slapped Turn­er with a $200,000 fine on Tues­day, say­ing the ad il­leg­ally mim­icked the sound of an emer­gency alert.

FCC rules ban TV sta­tions from us­ing the sounds of the Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem ex­cept for real emer­gen­cies or au­thor­ized tests. Au­thor­it­ies use the sys­tem to warn the pub­lic about tor­nadoes, floods, miss­ing chil­dren or oth­er emer­gen­cies.

But ac­cord­ing to the FCC, Turn­er — which owns Adult Swim and Car­toon Net­work — aired an ad for an al­bum by the rap­per A$AP Rocky last Janu­ary with sounds sim­il­ar to the of­fi­cial emer­gency alert tones.

Two view­ers com­plained to the FCC about the ad. One com­plained about be­ing “afraid something bad was hap­pen­ing,” and the oth­er said it was a “VERY dis­gust­ing tac­tic to draw someone’s at­ten­tion to an ad­vert.”

The ad was cre­ated by Sony Mu­sic Group to pro­mote the al­bum’s re­lease in Best Buy stores, but it’s Turn­er’s re­spons­ib­il­ity to en­sure all shows and ads on its chan­nels com­ply with FCC rules.

The fine is es­pe­cially harsh be­cause it’s the second time in three months that the FCC has ac­cused Turn­er of mis­us­ing the emer­gency alert sound. Last Novem­ber, the FCC pro­posed a $25,000 fine for a 2012 TBS ad pro­mot­ing the “Con­an O’Bri­en Show.”

After the FCC re­ceived com­plaints about the Con­an ad sound­ing like an emer­gency alert, Turn­er said it re­vised its in­tern­al pro­ced­ures for re­view­ing ads. The FCC said that be­cause Turn­er had already run afoul of the rules once, it had “a high­er de­gree of culp­ab­il­ity” for the ad on Adult Swim and a tough­er fine was ap­pro­pri­ate.

Turn­er didn’t re­spond to a re­quest to com­ment, but the com­pany told the FCC that it didn’t think the ad on Adult Swim used the ac­tu­al tones of the Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem.

But the FCC con­cluded that the noises don’t have to be an “ex­act copy or re­cord­ing” of the Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem to vi­ol­ate the rules. The ad was close enough to an emer­gency sound to scare view­ers and war­rant a fine, the agency said.

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