NAB Admits Listening, Revenue Declining

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In comments filed with the FCC Friday, the National Association of Broadcasters is again calling on The Commission to loosen ownership caps for radio. Two big reasons the NAB is calling for more deregulation is radio’s declining revenue and audience due to the competition it’s facing. The NAB states it has submitted “unrefuted evidence demonstrating the increasing parlous financial position of the radio industry.”

The NAB used the following stats to make its point: “Local radio stations’ OTA ad revenues fell 44.9 percent in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020, and even when taking stations’ 2020 digital ad revenues into account, their total ad revenues still dropped 39.8 percent in nominal terms ($17.6 to $10.6 billion) over that time period.”

The NAB filing then broke the revenue decline down even further, using Nielsen’s 253 rated markets. “The advertising revenues of FM stations mirror the radio industry as a whole, with FM stations’ revenues over the same 2005-2020 period showing a similarly stark decline. According to BIA data, the OTA ad revenues of FM stations in the 253 continuously surveyed Arbitron/Nielsen Audio markets fell from $10.5 billion in 2005 to $6.0 billion in 2020, a decline of 42.9 percent in nominal terms. These revenue data show a clear and present threat to FM stations’ “ability to serve the public interest in the spirit of the Communications Act.”

Then it was on to how listeners are leaving radio. “According to Nielsen Audio, the Average Quarter Hour (AQH) Listening of FM stations dropped 23.5 percent in just the past five years. Falling AQH audiences directly impact the competitive and financial viability of FM (and AM) stations because advertising is sold based on stations’ AQH listening, rather than stations’ audience reach or weekly cume. AQH audience metrics are accordingly much more relevant for the FCC’s competition analysis in this proceeding than any measure of radio stations’ cumulative reach.

The NAB, on behalf of several radio groups, states these problems radio is having can be fixed by lifting the ownership caps, allowing radio to better compete with big tech companies. “Broadcast stations clearly have myriad rivals for customers (i.e., audiences and advertisers) and increasingly struggle for a competitive share of the marketplace. They should not have to compete with these rivals while encumbered by asymmetric rules precluding competition on an even remotely level playing field. NAB again urges the FCC to act without further delay to reform its local radio and TV ownership rules.”

The NAB’s 75 page filing also says that radio lost 200 radio stations in the past two years with a “growing numbers of stations that are unprofitable and experiencing negative advertising growth.” And, that they are dealing with their advertising issues “constrained by outdated ownership restrictions.” And, according to the NAB, that is leading to more stations “unable to maintain a significant local presence and offer a high level of local services.”

Here is what the NAB is asking for:
· eliminate caps on AM ownership in all markets;
· permit a single entity to own up to eight commercial FM stations in Nielsen Audio 1-75 markets, with the opportunity to own two more FM stations through successful participation in the FCC’s incubator program; and
· remove restrictions on FM station ownership in Nielsen markets 76 and lower and in unrated areas.

Read the NAB filing HERE.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Here we go again, towards another round of merger mania. Tell me when has big business ever cared more about people than local neighbors? Dropping caps is a bad idea for several good reasons, not least it tends to move radio further away from home, towards distant, generic programming, which ultimately hurts radio.
    Radio stations are hugely overpriced, which discourages local newcomers. Too much of a station’s market value surrounds artificial scarcity, due largely to previous weakening of caps. Better to let an unsuccessful station go bust, allowing someone new a chance to start it over from scratch. This would lead to creativity and fresh ways of doing radio at an affordable entrance price.
    I have no burden to keep so many stations on the air, cluttering the spectrum and dividing the audience. A full band of stations doesn’t necessarily mean better programming or increased community service, because most stations are essentially run for profit, not in the public interest or necessity, while essentially competing among themselves using similar, stale, nonsensical models and acts. And then we’re all amazed as to why radio popularity is waning.

  2. As someone else pointed out…”DO GOOD RADIO”! The industry, with its consolidations and restructuring/buyout shenanigans, has shot itself in the foot. I hear small/medium market radio stations that stick to the basics with live local talent and (gasp!) succeed. And, (no surprise here) they sound great. Quit enlisting the smarmy “Jack” preprogrammed schmuck (cheap way out) and go with local talent who can RELATE. And screw corporate “one size fits all” formatting coast-to-coast (it’s boring).

  3. I know all the commenters here are against raising ownership limits, but my question is who will buy these stations? So far, the only company that seems to have any cash is EMF. They bought some of the biggest heritage stations in the country last year. Why didn’t some small local owners raise a few dollars to buy WPLJ or WRQX? Are there any small investors who are willing to take a chance on radio, and show the big corporate owners how local staffing can attract listeners and advertisers? Where are the small owners? The stations are there for the buying, and prices have never been lower. Especially for AMs.

    • “Prices have never been lower”??? Seriously? Do you follow the selling prices that some of the most marginal radio stations are getting?

      As a small businessman, I (and my broker, with many years of experience) strive mightily to find stations that are selling for reasonable prices that reflect today’s market realities. Those kinds of stations are very difficult to find. And, if you’re basing your conclusion on the “fire sale” price that Cumulus sold those legacy stations for, again, that’s just not the reality that we small businesspersons, who want to serve locally, are finding out there. Believe me, I wish it were the reality.

  4. Let’s call it what it really is, the NAB Consolidators Credit Relief. Local over air radio has been screwed since Lowry Mays, an investment banker, hijacked the NAB Board and used its considerable lobbying power to get Congress to pass the 1986 Telecommunications Act. He waited almost too late to exit having to sue his buyers to close. The fact the industry has survived these 35 years since is a true testament to its mass appeal and acceptance by the general public which has been given every reason to just say to hell with radio. Now, in many locales, they are. When the industry’s “leaders” tout the best idea in the past 10 years is podcasting we are done except for individual markets where stations have remained closer to their advertisers and listeners and the operators run lean, smart and debt fee. If the FCC were to grant the ownership changes, the consolidators know it’s nothing more than to give them a little more time with their lenders/investors who make their money from fees for refinancing or new stock offerings, etc. Every major operator is headed to bankruptcy, again. The radio runway is longer for the small market operators who have kept closer to their communities but even we have to contend with chain retail operators who do no advertising and are the result of consolidation in those industries, too. So far we have survived and often thrived by developing new advertising sources. Damn sure better idea and investment of our time/efforts than podcasting.

  5. Radio is declining in profits because radio has gotten Lazy. If you take off the ownership CAP it will get worse. One voice several stations you figure it out. Not only bad for the few listeners but also very bad for the USA. There was a guy who thought like that back in the 1930s, not a broadcaster but someone who dam near ruined society. The FCC has been on vacation since it was deregulated several years ago. Tighten the regulations when it comes to ownership. You must have terrestrial broadcast experience and not just someone with money looking for a hobby. Some stations have turned into order takers and not in-person selling on the street. When is the last time someone called your radio station and said, I would like to buy a flight of spots? Make radio fun again. Get involved with your community. Stop crying and start working on building your radio station. From Small-to medium to large markets. Remember 50 kw is nothing today like it was 20 years ago. Small markets can make a dent with an internet feed. But you have to work at it and above all, be creative and not just Time and Temp with no one answering the station phone. Remember, if you still have an audience they are the star, not you. We are the conduit…make it work.

  6. Boys and girls of the band, let’s face the music. The time is coming when we will be forced to admit that fewer and fewer people will need our vinyl records and reel to reel tapes.
    Greed accelerated our decline. The Communications Act of 1996 encouraged consolidation and internet competition, long before the internet claimed center stage.
    Radio turned on itself, destroying itself from within with Clear Channel Communications and Wall Street leading the way.
    The FCC dragged it’s feet, and like most three letter agencies, did the wrong thing after exhausting all other options. Now, it’s a race to zero.
    We are in the middle of a buffalo jump, from which there is no exit. Only one question remains. Who will be the last to jump off the cliff?

  7. Some very good comments on here. NAB is advocating more deregulation for radio, but for whose benefit? Clearly, the benefit is to the stockholders and owners, albeit a very short-term benefit. …Consolidating more and cutting more personnel, slashing promotional budgets (what is left of them), adding more voice tracking and even more commercials, does not in any way benefit the employees or the listeners.
    As others have commented, when companies/industries are in a cycle of consolidation and slashing operating costs as a way to grow, with no long term vision or investments, that is actually a path to obsolescence. Sears is a classic example, as are (were) many once-major newspapers around the United States.

  8. Even in the largest markets, there needs to be a better “middle ground” approach from the NAB. If the NAB proposal were to be fully adopted, even in a major market like Dallas-Fort Worth, where I am, radio market ownership could be reduced to one large company literally and figuratively owning the market.

    Consider: If a large broadcaster participated in the so-called incubator program, it could own 10 FM stations. And if, simultaneously, the AM band is entirely deregulated, that same broadcaster could realistically own every desirable Class A and B AM station in town. Such a scenario would make DFW — or NYC — or LA — or Chicago, etc., etc., a “one-company town”. Only the “scraps” would be left for other owners. To me, that is not “competition”; that is virtually a monopoly. Such a scenario essentially mirrors the very kind of monopoly power that the radio industry decries as against its social media and other competitors.

    The problem is not really the “limited” number of stations a radio (or TV) broadcaster can own in a competitive advertising market. It is the “cookie cutter” approach that the large broadcasters — iHeart, Cumulus, and Audacy, especially — have adopted, turning their backs on the genuine localism that radio stations need in order to establish the value proposition that advertisers want and need. Broadcast radio, in particular, I think, is just not suited for a business strategy that more serves shareholders than local advertisers and listeners. That dichotomy simply does not work for radio.

    Let’s find a more realistic solution for the issues that the radio industry faces. Yet another monopoly is not the answer.

  9. Ironic, while admittedly new technology has cut into radio’s TSL (AQH) and to a lessor extend Cume, the larger problem has all along been deregulation in the first place. The reduction in competition with fewer radio companies has caused the medium to give up its’ two biggest advantages: 1. Live 2. local. Now you can buy and create your own ad using the iHeart app or on line. If radio is just an expense cutting voice tracked juke box, why not consume Pandora, Spotify, XM/Sirius, etc…? You can graph the decline from the first major deregulation to today’s nadir! Just sayin……..

  10. Unfortunately, this is a trend in many industries cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. An industry driven by profits alone, especially when the sword of Damocles, highly leveraged debts loom over them, look to gain profits by every means possible, including driving out competition, monopolizing the market, reducing operating costs, primarily labor, with absolutely zero emphasis on product quality since that’s a costly option. Earn more with less. And that’s why listenership is down. You have a self fulfilling prophesy, a negative feedback loop as it were. Funny how the NAB hasn’t noticed the continued growth in one corner of radio broadcasting, non-commercial NPR affiliates. Is there a lesson here?

  11. Why would allowing IHeart, Cumulus and all the other giants to own more radio stations actually increase listenership? I find it humorous to believe more voice tracking and the loss of local jobs as announcers are asked to do 3 and 4 jobs is going to increase listenership. And just how are you going to sell more advertising with less real, local product? This idea has been paid for by many of the people who have ruined radio in the past 25 years. More of the same will not make radio better.

    • Well, obviously, when absurdly large commercial loads get even bigger to service the new debt at admittedly diminished rates, listening will rebound. That’s just science.

    • Add to your comment, that their 100 percent share deals at ridiculously low rates has also significantly contributed to the decline in radio revenues.

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