The FCC Is Mad About Hot Wheels Ads Running During Hot Wheels Cartoons

Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

A whole bunch of TV broadcast licensees are in trouble with the FCC for allegedly violating rules that limit advertising on children’s TV (according Deadline), and that means it’s a good opportunity to learn why TV shows that are very obvious commercials, like, say Transformers and G.I. Joe, not to mention pretty much every cartoon since the 80s is fine. Or, at least, “okay” in quotes.

All thanks to decades-old legislation called Children’s Television Actallowing children to safely enjoy artistically valid and culturally relevant programming, such as Transformers (and in a lesser extent, G.I. Joe). Among other things, it established regulations that require networks to provide a certain amount of educational programming during regular viewing hours and in regular viewing blocks. It also limited the number of ads that can be shown during children’s shows, introduced a requirement that networks must clearly delineate when a show airs and when ads start (so kids can tell the difference ) and instituted strict rules against so-called “programme-length advertising”.

This means that if you broadcast, say, Transformers– a TV show based on a toy – you may not also run advertisements for Transformers toys, because that then turns the cartoon into an explicit advertisement…rather than an implicit advertisement. Not that Transformers isn’t artistically valid and culturally relevant on its own, obviously, since the fact that it was made to sell toys seems kind of secondary to the fact that it’s just a good show…. right? (However Transformers predates the Children’s Television Act by a few years, so you really should thank it for being such an obvious advertisement that children today are subjected to fewer advertisements.)

Unfortunately for America’s kids, a slew of TV stations have “inadvertently” aired commercials for Hot Wheels toys over the past few years. Hot Wheels Team cartoon – the thing you’re not supposed to do! – and was only unveiled in 2020 because they were trying to renew their broadcast licenses. The majority of the affected stations (85 of them) are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group (memory?), with all but one of these stations airing the Hot Wheels commercial 11 times over the course of eight broadcasts of the Hot Wheels cartoon over the course of a few months.

Other broadcast companies involved include Nexstar, Cunningham, Deerfield Media, CoCom Media Of Illinois, HSH, Manhan Media, Mercury Broadcasting, Mitts Telecasting Col, MPS Media, Nashville License Holdings, New Age Media, Second Generation Of Iowa, Waitt Broadcasting and WTVH License Inc. The FCC proposed a total of $3.4 million in fines, including $2.6 million from the Sinclair networks alone.

Of course, the damage has already been done and now there are kids who probably think of Hot Wheels toys when watching the Hot Wheels Team cartoon because they saw an ad linking the two. We can only hope that the show, as Transformersis good enough on its own that these kids won’t grow up with an inability to tell the difference between quality entertainment and contents which has just been successfully announced to them. Otherwise, they could grow into adults who can’t help but insist that the show they loved as kids was actually good and not that they just liked the toys associated with it.