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Clear Channel’s mystery comment to the FCC

bwahahahaOn Tuesday a quartet of Clear Channel executives piled into the Federal Communications Commission building and buttonholed most of the agency’s top brass, including FCC Chair Julius Genachowski. Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman did most of the talking, it seems.

Pittman “emphasized the ways in which the Internet and broadband technology offer Clear Channel the opportunity to make its content available to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and enhance its ability to carry out its public interest obligations and how radio, therefore, can be an important part of the broadband age,” the summary of the various meetings explains. “In that regard, Mr. Pittman highlighted Clear Channel stations’ harnessing of new technologies to better serve communities, particularly in times of emergency.”

Then came this mysterious remark:

In addition, Mr. Pittman discussed several ways in which the FCC can help radio to improve its competitive position by increasing the flexibility that it has to enter into strategic partnerships that will enhance the listening experience, while ensuring that audiences receive sponsorship information appropriate to today’s digital environment.

I’m scratching my head over the part of the comment that I italicized, and forwarded it to my colleagues Paul Riismandel and Jennifer Waits. Paul speculated that it might have something to do with HD radio. Jennifer wondered if it might relate to Clear Channel’s iHeart Radio service.

My rough guess is that it could have something to do with iHeart Radio and the FCC’s sponsorship identification (or payola) rules, which require broadcasters to let the public know when some kind of “valuable consideration” has been given to a station in exchange for air time. There may be some concern afoot about the crossover of pay-to-stream iHeart content to over-the-air broadcasts. Something like that.

This is, of course, total speculation on my part. Your guesses are welcome too.


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4 Responses to Clear Channel’s mystery comment to the FCC

  1. John Anderson March 10, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    Pittman is all about the Internet. The comment is nebulous, but I’d have to say it has something to do with iHeartRadio…which is completely outside the FCC’s jurisdiction, so why talk about it with them?

    CC’s been quietly backing shoving HD aside – not turning off digital signals, but certainly not making more investments in the infrastructure.

  2. Radio Vet March 10, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    My guess is the comment relates to doing more promotions where the artist or label pays them to spin their new song, like they did with Madonna a few weeks ago. They played her new single on hundreds of stations in heavy rotation, and played her video on their electronic billboards. They called it multi-platform promotional opportunity. In the old days we just called it payola. My guess is they don’t want to do a sponsor mention at the start of every song. “Brought to you by Madonna and Warner Music!”

  3. Hal Crafter March 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Radio Vet may have nailed it. But my guess is that they want to just stream music in some markets with no public service responsibilities or EAS, and instead plan to text or otherwise digitally transmit song info and emergency info to listeners, maybe even the commercials themselves. In other words, the in-band radio is all music, everything else is out-of-band.

    But hey, who knows?

  4. Liz Warren March 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Has anyone considered this could be bigger and have a more significant impact than appears at first blush? If the battle for bandwith is a chess game, you can be sure the big players are thinking 8 moves ahead of the rest of us. Suppose Clear Channel enters into a “strategic alliance” with a large broadband partner owned by, oh, say, Bain Capital, for giggles. Because the FCC’s rules as they currently apply to mobile broadband and Internet traffic in general are still a bit arcane, there may still be exploitable legal loopholes allowing the co-opting of bandwith under certain circumstances that would have a long lasting impact if these seemingly benign “strategic partnerships” are approved. Such use could effectively throttle certain traffic while providing legally preferential transmission of propaganda, for lack of a better description of Clear Channel programming. Now suppose the FCC is further prevented from controlling the distribution of bandwith due to big telecom pressure to let all companies compete equally in bid auctions (thus ensuring the deepest pockets will win.) The big will simply get bigger and eventually Big Brother will be the first voice we hear over breakfast….

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