By Chris Castle
We’ve all heard the talking points from Big Radio’s shillery the National Association of Broadcasters about how it’s perfectly fine for American radio stations to deny recording artists and session musicians fair compensation–because exposure, don’t you know. Big radio delivers huge audiences for music and we should all be grateful and work for free for the ever-more-consolidated broadcasting industry.
The other talking point we don’t hear so much from these characters is that media ownership rules are bad and that greater and greater concentration of influence and wealth to control the public airwaves is good. That’s right, it’s not the corporate airwaves, it’s the public’s airwaves. But you wouldn’t know that by looking, right?
So the latest version of this “bigger is better” guff is happening right now at the Federal Communications Commission that licenses radio stations. The NAB is poormouthing to the FCC about how radio and TV stations have trouble competing with Google and Facebook (in particular) for advertising. Oh, no. Google is grinding them into bits? Say it ain’t so!
We know a little bit about what it’s like to have soulless Silicon Valley oligarchs using their political and financial muscle to get a free pass to jack with your livelihood without repercussions from the guys with badges. If Big Tech is really the problem for Big Radio, I’m sure there would be some support for going after them together. But playing nice with others would require the soulless media oligarchs to stop acting like wankers and make a fair deal for artists and musicians. That is not happening. No, no, the solution to the broadcasters’ Google problem is to relax media ownership rules for even MORE concentrated radio ownership, you see. Plus these monopolists want an antitrust exemption for which they have presented no evidence other than even more shillery.
But see what they did there? MusicFirst certainly did and wrote to the FCC to make sure the FCC did, too (letter is here):
The National Association of Broadcasters, in seeking relaxed broadcast radio ownership rules, is asking the FCC to accept arguments directly contrary to those it makes in opposing the American Music Fairness Act.
In fighting the AMFA, the NAB continues to claim airplay has “promotional value” that eliminates the need for radio broadcasters to pay recording artists for the music the stations use to derive millions of advertising dollars. The promotion argument has never been a valid justification for refusing to pay musicians. Such a rationale could swallow all of copyright, as any use of content can be called “promotional.” But even the NAB’s own arguments before the FCC are showing the flaws with its promotion claim.
For example, the NAB argues in this proceeding that radio broadcasters need increased economies of scale to compensate for the significant audience share broadcast radio has lost. Yet, if radio broadcasters have lost so much audience share that they need government intervention, the promotional value they claim to provide recording artists cannot be adequate compensation.
The NAB also applies the promotion claim inconsistently. In addition to its argument about loss of broadcast radio audience, the NAB alleges here that broadcasters need increased economies of scale because online platforms refuse to fairly compensate broadcasters for content the platforms use to derive advertising revenue. The NAB is similarly arguing that platforms’ inadequate compensation warrants passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act [the antitrust exemption for monopolists].
The musicFIRST Coalition agrees with the NAB that distributors should adequately compensate content providers. But what is good for the goose must be good for the gander. Online distribution of broadcaster content can also be claimed to be promotional. If the NAB finds inadequate the combination of online promotion and the money online platforms do pay broadcasters, the alleged value of broadcast radio promotion combined with the lack of any money the radio broadcasters pay recording artists cannot possibly be adequate.
The shills at the NAB should try being reasonable just once instead of doing their usual blunt force trauma. Here’s the reality: Nobody is buying what they’re selling because it’s just more snake oil.