In case it wasn’t already clear, the Federal Communications Commission is serious about its crackdown on commercials that look or sound like the emergency alerts used during severe weather or natural disasters.
The FCC proposed fining Viacom, Walt Disney, ESPN, and Comcast‘s NBCUniversal a total of almost $2 million on Monday for repeatedly airing a commercial for the movie “Olympus Has Fallen” last year. The movie revolves around an attack on the White House that is foiled by a security guard played by Gerard Butler.
The commercial in question uses sounds similar to those use by the Emergency Alert System, running afoul of FCC rules against airing the tones outside of an actual emergency or test of the system. The ad also displays text on the screen stating “THIS IS NOT A TEST” and “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The FCC penalized the cable channels for airing the advertisement multiple times on several channels, both national and regional. Viacom faces a proposed fine of $1.12 million for airing the ad 108 times, while ESPN’s fines total $280,00 for airing the ad 13 times. NBCUniversal-owned networks aired the ad 38 times, for a proposed fine of $530,000.
“We have received the Notice of Apparent Liability and are reviewing it,” a spokesperson for NBCUniversal said via email.
A spokeswoman for ESPN said: “We are assessing the FCC’s notice and will respond through its normal process.”
Viacom said in a statement that it “strongly supports and understands the value of the Emergency Alert System and regrets the airing of the advertisement,” and said it strengthened its processes after it learned of the problem. The company said it is reviewing its options and will provide a response to the FCC.
The companies have 30 days to pay the fine or contest the action.
This is not the first time Hollywood has ruffled feathers in Washington by using fake emergency alert signals in ads; late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien drew a $25,000 fine from the FCC in November for a similar violation. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau recently opened an investigation into the issue after “a recent spike in consumer complaints.”