(By Ed Ryan) The musicFIRST Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition are calling out the National Association of Broadcasters. The two organizations say the NAB is making hypocritical arguments to federal regulators and lawmakers.
The two organizations are planning to file a reply comment to the FCC on Friday in response to the NAB’s push to raise ownership caps. musicFIRST Chairman Joe Crowley said, “The NAB’s hypocrisy truly knows no bounds. They ask the FCC and Congress to change the rules to make sure broadcasters are compensated when others make money off their content, but they won’t extend the same fairness to the artists whose music they exploit to line their pockets. They want one set of facts for themselves and a different one for everyone else — and we’re not going to let that stand.”
Yes, the NAB has been pushing for the FCC to loosen ownership caps. However, the main reason they are requesting the change is so stations can better compete with digital giants Facebook, Google, YouTube, and other unregulated tech companies who are competing for the local advertising dollar. Broadcasters have not asked for the change to “make sure they are compensated.” Not all broadcasters are in agreement that the caps should be lifted, and it’s not really clear how owning 10 or 12 stations in a market, rather than 6 or 8, would put radio on a level playing field with the big tech companies.
musicFIRST has been going after radio to pay artists to air their music for years. Since former Congressman Joe Crowley became Chairman of musicFIRST the organization has come after radio even harder. Crowley is hoping Congress passes what is called the American Music Fairness Act, which currently has 13 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The NAB’s Local Radio Freedom Act has support from over 200 members of Congress, but it’s only a non-binding resolution. Time will tell if Crowley and his former colleagues in Congress can put together a larger coalition than the NAB.
Crowley and musicFIRST have really been targeting the bigger groups, going after iHeartMedia, Audacy, Cumulus, Beasley, and a few others. They are offering smaller groups and stations a blanket fee, perhaps to drive a wedge between radio’s bigger companies and the mon-and-pop owners. There has not been an official formula put on the table by musicFIRST as to how the fee structure might work. It’s been mostly lobbying in Washington, with both sides trying to convince as many lawmakers as possible to take their side.
A musicFIRST press release states that when broadcasters ask the FCC to relax the broadcast radio ownership rules, they claim lost audience share revenue due to changing consumer behavior. The organization says broadcasters can’t claim to be hemorrhaging listeners (due to changing consumer behavior) and standing up for fair compensation for content creators when it suits them, only to turn around and tell artists that they don’t deserve the same fair compensation for their own content because broadcasters are providing them so much “promotional value” by exposing their music to a (by their own admission) rapidly shrinking pool of listeners. “It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple — and the FCC should not let it stand.”
In the musicFIRST press release, Crowley went on to say, “As the FCC conducts their quadrennial review, it should take note that the NAB’s arguments in support of relaxing the broadcast radio ownership rules and passing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act on the one hand, and its arguments against the American Music Fairness Act on the other, cannot simultaneously be true. Just like you’re not allowed to maintain contradictory positions before the courts, the FCC should not allow the NAB to maintain contradictory positions before federal policymakers — especially when one set of those positions is being used to support policy changes that will negatively impact media competition, in direct opposition to the public interest.”
An NAB Spokesperson told Radio Ink last night, “It is beyond ironic that musicFIRST continues to focus on the handful of radio stations that are owned by big companies when 87% are not. Meanwhile, there are only three major music groups, two of which are foreign-owned, and their earnings are skyrocketing as they claim to need Congress’s help in taking money from local radio stations — stations that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and continue to provide billions of dollars in free promotion to performing artists each year. In fact, a recent article suggests these music companies are turning over $2.5 million every hour.”
What radio stations have on their side, in addition to their position of strong promotional value for the artists, is the local radio station microphone. At some stage of the game politicians will run for re-election. They know they need the power of that “free” local radio station interview to reach their voters. They are not going to run back to their districts and find a Spotify studio, or local Pandora station, to get their message out.
On the other side, musicFIRST has been putting artists in front of the microphones at press conferences. While Dionne Warwick is a very recognizable name, there haven’t been any current chart-topping artists that are clamoring for radio to pay them “or else.” Artists appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach, which really isn’t doing radio any favors. While we’ve run stories about artists thanking radio for playing their music, or always remembering where they were the first time they heard their song on the radio, they certainly are not taking a public stand and getting behind the industry that helps make them stars.