FCC Fines Networks $2 Million For Using Alert Tone In Ads

The agency says ESPN, NBC and Viacom weakened the emergency alert system by using it to promote the film "Olympus Has Fallen."
Posted at 10:24 PM, Mar 03, 2014

There are quite a few things you can't normally broadcast on TV without incurring the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission, and a particular set of loud screechy noises known as the Emergency Alert System is one of them.

Sound familiar? That's the opening from a 30-second TV commerical for the movie "Olympus Has Fallen" — and it borrows the same tones used in the EAS. 

It turns out the FCC doesn't appreciate that noise showing up on TV when there's no actual emergency happening.

In a complaint filed Monday, the FCC fined three companies for airing the Emergency Alert System tones while playing the commercial. The agency writes, "Frivolous, casual, or other uses of EAS Tones ... can desensitize viewers to the tones and thereby undermine the effectiveness of the system."

Re/code, which first spotted the story, notes the FCC began receiving complaints about the commercial when it first aired back in March 2013. Broadcast groups noted the error days later, and the trailer was swiftly pulled from the airwaves.

But the damage was done. The FCC is imposing a $280,000 fine on ESPN for airing the trailer 13 times, a $530,000 fine on NBC Universal for airing the trailer 33 times, and a whopping $1.12 million fine on Viacom for airing the trailer 57 times.

All told, the FCC fines add up to almost $2 million dollars. That's a pretty hefty price tag for the 30-second TV spot.

Well, if it's any consolation to the broadcasters, the actual movie did okay. Box Office Mojo reports so far "Olympus Has Fallen" has grossed more than $160 million worldwide.

In response to the FCC complaint, both ESPN and Viacom have changed their policies to prohibit the sounds from showing up in future commercials.