Thanksgiving was an interesting day for those who follow telecommunications hoo-hah. While most Americans were enjoying turkey, stuffing and football, AT&Trequested to withdraw their merger application with T-Mobile from consideration at the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T and Deutsche Telecom (T-Mobile’s parent company) instead announced plans to concentrate on Department of Justice antitrust proceedings that will go to trial in February 2012. read more
Everyone’s wallet gets light from time to time. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Willie Nelson was so broke, he sold the rights to several of his most well-known songs for less than what a full tank of gas would cost today. “I needed fifty dollars!” he later recalled. In hindsight, the idea of letting the rights to “Crazy” go for a paltry ten bucks seems, well, crazy. Unfortunately Congress may be on the verge of making the same sort of short-sighted mistake with its proposed plan to sell off TV broadcast spectrum as a method of raising a small amount of revenue in the short-term. read more
President Obama nominated two individuals late Monday to fill open slots on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). With one vacant seat and another expected shortly, Obama nominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Varadaraj Pai to the Commission. read more
And there was a feeling the deal struck the right balance between rights holders’ needs and the rights of Internet customers. “While it is too early to tell whether a graduated response policy will have any measurable effect on the unauthorized distribution of music files, the framework does seem to strike an appropriate balance between access to a crucial communications platform and the need to protect the rights of artists,” said Future of Music Coalition Deputy Director Casey Rae-Hunter.
Dozens of groups have voiced opposition to the merger between the second-largest mobile carrier in the U.S. and the fourth-largest. The merger would reduce competition in the mobile market and likely drive up prices, said critics including Public Knowledge, the Rural Telecommunications Group and the NoChokePoints Coalition, a coalition of telecom customers, consumer groups and small carriers concerned with mobile backhaul rates.
The merged company would be “contrary to the express policies of Congress and the Commission to rely on competition rather than regulation to protect consumers and spur deployment of new services,” Public Knowledge and the Future of Music Coalition wrote in a May 31 filing to the FCC.
Recently, FMC teamed up with Public Knowledge to file an official Petition to Deny at the Federal Communications Commission regarding the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. We oppose the merger because we believe that artists’ and music consumers’ interests are best served in by an open market with plenty of competition and widespread access to technology (including high-speed internet). And, since music is becoming increasingly accessed via mobile devices, wireless providers have increased influence over the world of content. read more
Ms. Marlene Dortch
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington DC 20554
Re: Notice of Oral Ex Parte Communications
MB Docket No. 11-66 (Cumulus/Citadel merger; license transfer approval)
Dear Ms. Dortch,
This letter is submitted pursuant to Section 1.1206(b) of the Commission’s rules.
On May 5, 2011, Michael Bracy (Policy Director, Future of Music Coalition (FMC), Christopher Naoum (Policy Counsel, FMC), and Adam Holofcener (Legal Intern, FMC) met with Commissioner Michael Copps and Joshua Cinelli.
Future of Music Coalition met with the Commissioner and his staff to discuss the state of the commercial radio marketplace. FMC is specifically concerned with the proposed transfer of control and assignment of licenses in the merger of Citadel Broadcasting Corporation (Citadel) and Cumulus Media Inc. (CMI). As FMC’s eleven years of documenting trends in the commercial radio space indicates, consolidation in the radio industry has led to conditions that could appropriately be described as market failure. The drive to cut costs to please investors, coupled with highly restrictive programming behaviors, have stymied broadcasters’ ability to fulfill their public interest obligations of localism and diversity, while affecting their ability to attract and retain listeners.
When FMC speaks with artists, and managers and fans, we are impressed by how much enthusiasm there is for terrestrial radio. However, this enthusiasm is not often reflected in commercialradio programming, which is homogenized and risk-averse. We also notice that noncommercial radio is driving a considerable amount of activity — monetary, cultural and otherwise — by highlighting independent and local content. We wonder if there is more that commercial radio can do to play an active role in the new music ecosystem in a way that makes sense both economically and with regards to station owners’ license obligations. We worry that commercial station owners might be missing out on significant opportunities to compete in today’s media marketplace by failing to acknowledge terrestrial radio’s core strengths, namely live and locally-originated programming.
We have spoken to representatives for CMI and we appreciate their efforts to bring new equity into the marketplace and divest their overlapping stations to owners who seek to best serve the public interest. Additionally, we are cautiously optimistic about CMI’s goal to “place more feet on the streets and jocks on the air,” to borrow a phrase from CMI Chairman, President and CEO Lew Dickey. Our number one concern, however, is programming and the lack of access for independent creators and labels. According to the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), a merged company would likely result in more barriers to airplay for their independent record label members. FMC shares these concerns on the artist side, yet welcomes opportunities for positive reform in commercial radio in both programming and community engagement.
Another concern shared by both FMC and the independent label community is structural or institutional payola. As documented in several qualitative and quantitative reports by both groups, radio station ownership consolidation in part establishes an environment where payola or payola-like practices are a natural outcome. We are not entirely satisfied with the practical results of the Consent Decree and Voluntary Agreements in the wake of 2007’s payola settlements, and would welcome more meaningful engagement between the independent music sector and commercial radio.
CMI has expressed interest in further discussing some of FMC’s concerns and ideas about how to make local stations more viable through innovative programming. A growing community of independent musicians has had considerable success on noncommercial stations, and there is no reason why commercial stations cannot reestablish themselves in the marketplace by taking advantage of clear demand for independent content. Bands like Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, and Spoon have all made it to the top of the Billboard charts but receive scant airplay on commercial radio. To us, this signals that something is broken with the programming model. Restrictive, homogenized programming with little local or regional focus will is unlikely to attract new listeners; playing music they want to hear may achieve a better outcome.
Consumers have expressed interest in live niche formats. Commercial radio station groups have done a poor job of responding to these demands, as well as competition from other sources, such as web radio. To adapt to a changing industry, we suggest that certain metrics may be employed across any market to tailor playlists to local audiences and demonstrable listener demand. The question is how can stations can engage local communities and partner with independent practitioners to once again be a driver in the music marketplace.
CMI has suggested that HD radio substations will address many of the issues of diversity in programming. This would be a welcome development, but HD radio has yet to become a factor in attracting listeners to commercial stations, and studies show that many already prefer web radio alternatives in automobiles, due to the ease of incorporating mobile devices into vehicle dashboards. Therefore, we believe that innovative programming must occur on the terrestrial stations even before a yet-to-be embraced technology such as HD radio. Improving conditions in regular broadcasting may also drive listeners to planned HD sub-channels, which would surely be a welcome outcome for station owners.
Future of Music Coalition looks forward to opportunities to work with the commercial radio sector, the independent artist and label community and the FCC to identify positive, market-focused ways to make the most of this vital portion of the public airwaves.
With the state of the recorded music industry in flux, tremendous attention has been focused on the live music business and its sustainability. For years, this sector has been dominated by a small group of powerful players in touring, ticketing, promotions and venue management. How has this impacted musicians and local music communities? What effect would further concentration have on the live music ecosystem? Are there any alternatives? read more
The FUTURE OF MUSIC COALITION criticized CLEAR CHANNEL's earlier comments promoting the salutory effects of consolidation on format diversity, saying that "increased consolidation in the commercial radio sector runs counter to the FCC's goals of competition, localism and diversity on the public airwaves. As the Commission undertakes a review of its current media ownership rules, we urge it to consider radio’s monolithic transformation following the elimination of the national ownership rules and the relaxation of local ownership rules under the 1996 Telecommunications Act."
On July 26, 2010, Future of Music Coalition filed reply comments in the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Media Ownership Review proceedings. Our statement in the original comments phase were filed on July 12, 2010, and can be viewed here. [GN 09-182]
Our reply comments are in response to broadcasting giant Clear Channel’s previous filing, which claims that consolidation in radio station ownership has resulted in greater diversity in programming. FMC’s response includes data from our widely cited 2006 study of rampant consolidation in commerical station ownership following the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. We measurably demonstrate that “format diversity” does not equal “programming diversity,” and point to clear evidence that the interests of local communities are better served by station groups that operate well under the allowable ownership caps.