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
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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