Photo: Education Images/UIG/Getty Images
Radio Station Owners Petition For Greater Consolidation
Is big radio getting bigger? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to issue a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for comments about media ownership regulation of audio programming later this month. In anticipation, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has submitted its latest arguments for special treatment while musicFIRST and the Future of Music Coalition submitted joint comments opposing greater consolidation.
The FCC was created in the 1930s to ensure that America's broadcast and wire communications functioned efficiently and in the national interest, without discrimination or unreasonable charges. As the voice for the nation's radio and television broadcasters, NAB speaks for the industry and its owners. As the FCC prepares to review caps limiting how many radio stations can be held by a single owner, NAB has stepped out to argue why it believes station owners should have lighter restrictions.
“Radio launched in 1920 in the U.S. and has assiduously avoided paying a single penny for the recorded-work of the musicians, artists, producers, and record labels whose music it uses to generate nearly $11 billion of its approximately $18 billion revenue.”https://t.co/K8jTQP0oBl
— musicFIRST (@musicFIRST) November 16, 2018
America's communications infrastructure is no longer dominated by telephone lines and broadcast towers, but the FCC remains the primary agency with jurisdiction over the rules of the airwaves. As summarized at Billboard, the dueling submissions present competing views of how government should participate to ensure a competitive marketplace. The established and already consolidated owners of radio stations are fighting the rules limiting them to ownership of only six FM stations and two AM stations in each of America's major markets. Meanwhile musicFIRST and artist groups view the radio industry as already highly consolidated, leading to consequences for types of programming that discriminate and reduce the number of independent voices.
"Such consolidation … causes homogenization of AM/FM music playlists," they argue, "such that listeners of commercial AM/FM music-driven stations now hear a substantially less diverse swath of artists and recordings than before consolidation."
On the other hand, NAB's answer to the need for more competition is in favor of more consolidation, falsely believing that greater market presence, with less diversity, is the only way for radio stations to compete with the diverse options presented by digital and streaming platforms.
In their comments, the music organizations also call out the unfair legacy advantage radio station owners enjoy that they do not need to pay musical performers for the use of their recordings. But for NAB, considering this copyright concession is "outside the scope of [the FCC's] regulatory jurisdiction and expertise." It should be clear that both the arguments for consolidation and for non-payment of royalties recommend taking a point of view that favors current owners.
Clearly, NAB wants the FCC to take internet competition into account so that radio itself can be made less competitive, to improve its financial stability in competition with high-tech providers playing by a different set of rules. But NAB wants the FCC to stay hands-off about radio's unfair advantage of not paying performance royalties. It's questionable whether such arguments genuinely put the interests of broadcast radio first. They seem to favor the financial interests of radio's struggling established owners, who seek more special advantages.
The cost of perpetuating radio's carve-out from market forces and competition guidelines has retarded the progress of its own platform. Our national culture is less interesting due to this continued protection, but big radio wants the freedom to continue to fail in their established old ways, by gaining even more special protection from the government.
Changing radio and ending its fossilized protections is an opportunity to show what these towers and stations can do. NAB should tune into the new frequencies and not be stuck arguing that eight stations in one market is too strict a limit.