When the FCC gets buck on someone, it usually has something to do with explicit language and/or nudity of the accidental kind. In this case, however, it’s over a movie trailer. The FCC isn’t backing down on its huge fines against Viacom and ESPN for running ads in 2013 for Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen that used the familiar emergency broadcast tones. There was obviously no emergency, and the only way to celebrate that is by paying up.
The Olympus Has Fallen ads kicked off with the familiar “bwamp” sounds, even saying “This is Not a Test.” (That part was technically true, as it was a movie preview and not a test.) While it’s unknown if anyone actually pulled a War of the Worlds and freaked out about the country being under attack, the fine is for using the tones in the first place, which is mostly forbidden by the FCC. According to FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc, they “will not tolerate” the tones being used for non-emergency purposes.
Viacom is being forced to pay up $1.12 million, while ESPN needs to cough up $280,000. The fines were actually put forth in the spring of 2014, with NBCUniversal as the third culprit, but they’ve already paid their $530,000 fine. (The fines were based on how many times each company ran the ads, and on how many networks.) Viacom and ESPN, however, tried asking for a reduction in the fines, which the point-proving FCC swiftly denied. And although Viacom commented to the L.A. Times saying they are “considering their next steps,” the FCC has imposed a February 20 deadline for all fines to be paid.
Check out the commercial below, but remember: it’s only a movie.
It’s been a busy year for the FCC fining people over emergency broadcast tones, as they also slapped Conan with a $25,000 fine last year for promoting a 2012 Jack Black appearance with soundalike emergency tones. These weren’t even the exact noises, but because they were used with an image of color bars, it was close enough.
So it’s perfectly okay to fine someone for unintentionally making (naïve) people think that there’s an actual emergency happening when there isn’t, but not for trying to get people to go and see that dour-as-hell series of violent headshots that was Olympus has Fallen in the first place. Makes sense, I guess.