Archive | July, 2005

Shot Across the Bow Against Payola in NY

Payola–so-called “pay for play”–still exists in radio. While it was straigtforward in rock’s early days in the 50s, now it’s sheathed in the guise of “independent consultants” who get songs “placed” on major (and minor) radio stations using moneys given to stations for “promotional expenses.” Those “independent consultants” are then paid by the major labels, and in some cases are actually owned by broadcasters, like Clear Channel, which acts like its own middleman.

(Whereas, in college and noncommercial radio the station staff just get free CDs, promo schwag, and free drinks and drugs when they go to free concerts and industry events).

Today, Sony BMG settled with NY’s attorney general’s office to stop the practice. Crusading Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said of the deal:

“This agreement is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry… Contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees.”

As part of the deal Sony has to pay $10 million into a music education fund.

I’m glad to hear that the investigation is only getting started with Sony BMG. What I really want to see is for Clear Channel to go under the microscope, since the rise of new-school payola is the direct result of radio ownership consolidation.

Spitzer also rightly took aim at the FCC for not investigating or dealing with this incredible pervasive practice. Of course, to any seasoned FCC watcher, this isn’t suprising, since under Powell the Commission was completely allergic to taking any hard look at how the media industry does business. Chairman Martin’s spokesman said the FCC would look at anything Spitzer forwards to them, but we’ll see.

Like a lot of the securities fraud Spitzer has investigated, this only shows how captured is the agency which is supposed to police these affairs. Why does it take a state attorney general to hold the recording and broadcast industry to the law? It’s only because New York is such a major seat of business, and because all the major recording and radio companies do business there that Spitzer can pull this off.

The attorney general’s press release has some juicy details about Sony’s payola practices, after the jump.

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V-Man Interviews FRSD’s Bob Ugly on FCC Raid

V-Man from Free Radio Santa Cruz interviewed Free Radio San Diego founder Bob Ugly today. There aren’t too many other details about the raid, since nobody was at the station. But it’s interesting to hear Bob’s reaction — he says they were pretty much expecting the raid, though we don’t know if there was any specific knowledge, or if they just figured it was bound to happen.

Bob strikes a defiant, but realistic tone, pledging to put the station back on the air, perhaps with different tactics, figuring that losing $3000 worth of equipment every three years is a low cost of doing business.

He also says that he doesn’t favor a court challenge against the FCC. Though he intends to do some research on the matter, he doesn’t think there has been any real success in challenging the Commission in the courts, especially since you’re taking on the government within its own system.

That seems pretty reasonable to me, though I’d be cautious about how the station goes back on the air. The station volunteers–thus far–have been lucky that none of them have been named as liable for a fine or other legal action. The FCC might take that step on the next go around.

I’ll play excerpts from the interview on tomorrow’s mediageek radioshow, heard at 5:30 on WEFT here in Champaign-Urbana, IL, and afterwards on other stations and online.

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Free Radio San Diego Raided by FCC

And so another high-profile pirate meets the FCC, along with federal marshals. According to Free Radio San Diego’s website and a post to SD-IMC, the station was raided this morning. Details are few at the moment, but nobody was at the station at the time, and apparently the feds “broke the locks on their doors, entered by force” and then seized all the broadcast equipment, leaving behind a warrant.

Main pirate Bob Ugly writes that “we have absolutely no plans to pack up and go home,” and promises to have an update on future plans posted by 9 PM PDT tomorrow, after a station staff meeting.

This is the second high-profile bust in the last two months — the first being radio free brattleboro in June.

When John at gets back online I hope he’ll be able to bring some perspective to the case and the apparent pirate crackdown.

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Frontiers in Indy TV

Rabble considers the future of pan-national television, by way of noting that a new Central and South American-based television network, TeleSur, is about to go live on July 24.

Rabble’s big question is: how “to bridge these more high budget TV networks with real bottom up technology to restructure how we think of and view television[?]”

He argues that production values are important, and as an educational video producer, I have to agree. Rabble points to Democracy Now and Free Speech TV as examples of what the left has been able to do, with varying quality.

The problem with Democracy Now, in my opinion, is that it takes the model of the staid night news program, resembling a low-budget version of PBS’s The Newshour. While their production standards have improved a lot over the last year or so, it still looks low budget.

The low-budget look doesn’t bother me so much, but I agree that we have to recognize that it turns off a lot of people who would otherwise benefit from the message and information.

To some extent, it’s almost easier to do MTV-style production on the cheap than PBS or CNN-style. A lot of techniques from low-budget cinema and video art have bubbled up into the mainstream–like hand-held cameras and DV-looking footage–making it easier for the average TV viewer to accept programming not produced on $100,000 cameras in big studios.

I really believe you can make up for big-dollar equipment through style, planning and editing. But that does take time, if not money.

Distribution, of course, is the bigger question, with the internet becoming more feasible every day.

I think we still need to get video onto peoples TVs, not computers. Audio on computers has become more prevalent because people don’t mind listening while doing computer work, and because of mp3 players, which allow people to take their computer audio with them.

Portable video players will remain a geek thing, until they’re as useful and easy as portable DVD players. Still, the familyroom, bedroom and kitchen TV are the frontier that has to be conquered for internet distributed video to take hold.

In and of itself, that will not be a revolution for independent content, but it should flatten the landscape, just as downloading and podcasting has flattened things a bit for independent audio producers. (Keeping in mind that most of the top 100 podcasts in iTunes are offshoots of already famous or major media enterprises).

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