FTC Announces Proposed Abandonment of Picture Tube Rule

Remember when your TV screen used to curve into the wood casing of the console? Neither does the Federal Trade Commission. That’s why the FTC recently announced  the proposed repeal of the “Picture Tube Rule,” otherwise known as “Deceptive Advertising As to Sizes of Viewable Pictures Shown by Television Receiving Sets,” which you can find (at least for a few more months) at 16 C.F.R. 14.01.

Originally promulgated in 1966, the Picture Tube Rule regulated the advertising and marketing of TV screen sizes in two ways.  First, when the rule was adopted, televisions used cathode ray tube technology with a convex-curved screen, the edges of which were hidden behind the television casing (the curvature ensured that the distances between the tube’s electron gun and the different parts of the screen were equal). Thus, the actual viewing area was not quite as large as the screen size. The Picture Tube Rule made it clear that advertisers could only tout the “actual size of the viewable area,” not including the hidden parts.

Second, the FTC at the time concluded that consumers preferred rectangular objects to be measured by their length and width (and not diagonally). Therefore, the Picture Tube Rule sought uniformity in the market place by requiring that advertisers use the horizontal measurement of the screen to convey size, unless they conspicuously disclosed another basis for measurement. So, for example, if you sold a television with a screen that was 19 inches wide and 20 inches measured diagonally, you could claim it had “19 inch picture” or a “20 inch picture measured diagonally,” but not a “20 inch picture.”

The Picture Tube Rule has remained substantively intact since 1966 (except for a 1994 amendment to permit metric measurements). But on March 13, 2018, the FTC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking recommending repeal. Among the main reasons for the recommendation is the fact that virtually every television marketed today has a flat screen in which the viewable image covers pretty much the entire surface. Also, diagonal measurements of screen size have become the industry standard.

Does this mean that television set mongers are now going to start lying to us about screen size? Unlikely, says the FTC, which notes that it has never had occasion to enforce the rule in the 52 years since its adoption. But what about computer monitor and phone screen sizes; surely we need some regulation there, right?  Actually, the rule never applied to them anyway.

So, that’s probably the end of the Picture Tube Rule, unless you can think of some really good reason to keep it.  If you do, you have until May 14, 2018 to make your views known to the FTC.

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