The Federal Communications Commission is wrapping is up its proceeding on whether to weaken its payola rules, and the Future of Music Coalition has several fine responses to the proposal. Before we get to them, you may be asking who came up with this grand idea, which boils down to eliminating the requirement that “pay for play” (sponsorship) be identified “at the time of broadcast” (this is called the Sponsorship ID Requirement). No surprise as to the authors: a small boatload of big radio executives, including key personnel from iHeartMedia (formerly ClearChannel) and Entercom. Both of these entities not too long ago paid out big bucks to the Commission in one of those “voluntary settlements” regarding the illegal practice of accepting material goodies from air play seekers without telling the public that said transactions occurred. But back in November their Radio Broadcasters’ Coalition petitioned the FCC for “regulatory relief,” as it’s called on the Beltway. To wit:
“the Coalition requests that the FCC waive the technical requirement that a radio broadcaster airing music or sports programming include an on-air sponsorship identification announcement ‘at the time [sponsored material] is so broadcast,’ provided that the radio broadcaster participates in an initial, robust, listener education program and thereafter airs daily announcements during the most-listened-to dayparts and posts enhanced disclosures online.”
So you won’t learn that some deejay or Program Director got a new laptop computer in exchange for playing some tunes unless you tune at some specified moment during the radio station’s schedule. But that’s ok, the Coalition explains, because, like, there’s this thing called The Internet. More from the filing:
“It is indisputable that the Internet is increasingly important and available to Americans, and that consumers today expect to be able to get the information they care about online wherever and whenever they want it. If listeners were told that additional sponsorship information was available online, there is every reason to believe that those interested in this information would be able and willing to access the information via the Internet.”
One side comment: “the Internet” has become neoliberalism’s regulatory argument sinkhole; a justification for every kind of ethical short cut imaginable. Future of Music’s first filing against this proposal emphasizes the huge harm “structural payola” could do to what’s left of locally based music radio:
“Preventing structural payola is essential for promoting broadcast localism. Payola distorts radio playlists and allows airwave access based on financial backing and business relationships rather than talent. Local artists often do not have the same financial backing as major label superstars. Moreover, payola incentivizes DJs to pick playlists based on the preferences of large recording industry conglomerates instead of the tastes of the local community. Payola, therefore, is antithetical to localism and the FCC must more aggressively combat this insidious practice.”
As for the idea that consumers, or “those interested,” will reliably find sponsorship disclosures on the ‘Net, FOM responds:
“There is no way to assess the veracity of these claims; so-called ‘enhanced’ disclosures from the broadcasters remain purely hypothetical, as to our knowledge, no station group has chosen to offer these data. Regardless of the amount or nature of information posted to individual station sites, it seems unlikely that the average radio listener will ever engage with this information in a meaningful way. Station sites are operated by individual broadcast affiliates, and are highly variable in their most fundamental utility. We are unconvinced that broadcasters will present information—however detailed—about sponsored content in a way that is easily encountered by the relatively small percentage of listeners who visit these online properties. In fact, the rise of ‘radio aggregator’ apps such as TuneIn make it even less likely that those who consume content from the commercial radio conglomerates will interact with the static websites maintained by the individual stations. If there is an additional benefit to expanded disclosure on station sites, then this is something that the broadcasters are free to provide in addition to existing on-air requirements. In other words, no waiver is needed to experiment with added-value information regarding sponsored content.”
Amen. FOM’s second filing has an excellent summary of the various music industry representatives who have filed against this idea. Many individual consumers have also written in to oppose the plan. Read the longer proceeding filings here.
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