There has been some chatter on the public radio email lists this week about participation in the upcoming Internet Radio Day of Silence. I posted here about it Tuesday (see comments also), saying that while I was in sympathy with its aims, the stations I manage (Northwest Public Radio) wouldn't be participating.
I always like to post multiple points of view here, and I received the following from Mark Fuerst, who heads up public broadcasting's new media organization, the Integrated Media Association (disclosure: I'm on it's board). With his permission (thanks, Mark), it's quoted verbatim below.
If you care to know my view on this, here it is:
If I were running a stream, I would support it. I would also actively support the work of Kurt Hanson and the coalitions that have been organized to roll back the copyright payment ruling. You can find links to all this at http://www.kurthanson.com. IMHO, the copyright payments, as scheduled, will be crippling for the streaming radio industry, which is still emerging as an important audio option. The cost to public radio and TV alone would be well over $1 million >a year< and grow to be much larger in the years ahead with most of that money coming from the stations that are making the most progress developing sustainable online business models.
My recent survey of 12 stations showed that NO ONE is even close to breaking even on their web services, with the possible exception of stations that are developing a national music presence online--KCRW, KEXP, WXPN, Folk Alley, KPLU, and a few others. Their business model rests principally on membership dollars coming from listeners who live outside their coverage area and not on any form of corporate support or advertising. As a group, these are strong stations that can pay the royalties--that is, they won't be pushed out of business as some of the indie music sites will. But is the size of the copyright payment appropriate for their use of the music? No. It is far too high. Does the legislation that led to the copyright ruling properly balance competing interests and encourage the development of a robust streaming industry? No, in fact, it does just the opposite. Taking $50,000 to $200,000 out of the annual operating budgets of our most successful streaming operators will prevent them from investing in the full development of online radio.
What about the problem of "punishing the listener"? Given all of the audio options available to a modern listener, can we really say that turning off streams for >one day< is >punishment<? I find that word a little strong in this context, especially for public broadcasters. Please, for a moment step back and consider what all of you do all the time: Stop your regular programs and go on endlessly with irritating appeals to : Call now. Pledge now. Support us now. Yap. Yap. Yap. IMHO, >that< is "punishing the listener." And I hate it. On the other hand, it works and until we find a better method, all of you will continue to use that technique to mobilize citizen support for public media.
To me, the Day of Silence has a similar function. It says to all those who appreciate the infinite variety of programming made possible by Internet streaming: Wake up! Something you enjoy is in danger, and there are reasonable solutions that will avoid that danger. Call your representatives and get them working on those solutions.
If many stations and other online music sites honor the Day of Silence, that message will hit home, powerfully and effectively.
I'd really appreciate hearing your comments.
COMPILATION OF COMMENTS FROM IMA STATIONS
Al Bartholet, WSKU/FolkAlley: I don't think it's wise... we're running information on the issues with a call to action. I don't believe that we should punish those who listen and support our services, would we do that with our radio stations? I doubt it, It's like saying if we don't make our fundraising goal we'll give you a taste of silence. Give the listeners what they paid for or else they'll quickly forget about you, just give them the information, a lot of it, but don't punish the wrong people.
Tom Mara, KEXP: We have discussed this somewhat. I feel the urge to respond in this way, too; we certainly have a lot to lose. That being said, and at the risk of sounding too dramatic, I ultimately believe KEXP can't hold the music hostage. Welcome any thoughts here.
Bruce Warren, WXPN: From a press release: "WXPN will silence its streams on Tuesday as part of the National Day of Silence. While it is a "dramatic gesture", we believe it will draw attention to this vital issue and increase public pressure on Congress and consequently the Sound Exchange to seek a solution that is in the best interests of all the parties, including the artists. While I fully expect that the non-commercial stations will eventually achieve a palatable result, this will only happen if we continue to press our case. Failure to change the outcome may be a burden to only a few of us in the short term, but could be catastrophic for many of us in the near future . We do not agree that the Day of Silence is 'punishing the listeners', rather it is sounding an emergency alert that their listening options could be greatly impacted in the future by the royalty ruling." A press release will go out tomorrow and we will be running messages about this on all of our platforms including our main signal. We're going to direct listeners to various resources online however our goal is to get 5000 listeners to sign our own petition which we will then present to some legislator in Philly and this person will then work on our behalf to get these signatures to the proper folks. Additionally we will have two minutes of silence on our main FM signnal at 4PM. ¶ And later I think my colleagues, particularly the music stations, are overthinking this and are looking at it very myopically. We don't want to "punish the listeners" I look at it more like "we want to educate the listeners so in the future the punishment will be avoided." It's all about mindset, right? That's my personal opinion.
Bill Swersey, WNYC: As of now we're not participating. I think IMA could mention it, without necessarily advocating. Mike Bettison called me yesterday; he was doing an informal poll on the subject. I doesn't sound like MPR is going to participate, but he said he heard KCRW is planning to. Mark Vogelzang, Vermont Public Radio: Our initial reaction here at Vermont Public Radio is to indeed participate, even though the impact is minor in a rural area like Vermont. We would inconvenience a relatively small number of remote listeners for the day, but it would be no different than when technical problems on their end of the internet stream or on our end interrupt the music. I think the value is in the message of solidarity it sends back to our Congressional delegation through the print media that picks up the story, and those who understand that public radio has a significant amount to lose in this long and protracted effort.
Tim Olson, KQED: As of right now, KQED is not planning to participate. (Asked why?)... KQED, not a music format.
Bob Lyons, WGBH: I think it would be counterproductive. [It will] punish users whose goodwill we count on.
Dennis Haarsager, KWSU: Washington stations made it a priority during Capitol Hill Day, and Rep. Inslee from here was one of the original sponsors. This is not a skirmish, but rather a protracted fight in which I believe we will make steady progress because no matter how much the recording industry pushes back, you can't put the genie back in the bottle... They need us for discovery as much as we need them for programming. Where we're vulnerable is that music is struggling as a radio format these days. We urgently need to adapt to the complex realities of new platforms and that's why we need reasonable royalty rates. Along the way, we also need to adopt new business models that recognize the value contributions that each of the players - composers, artists, producers, copyright owners, distributors, and radio stations - make along the way. That's going to happen, but it's going to be slower if the CRB rates aren't moderated. Not to try to influence anyone else, but, since you asked, we're not going to participate in the "day of silence." That seems to me to be punishing the listeners for something that neither they nor we did wrong... Weekly online listing is now about 30 million people, about the same as FM listening was, as I recall, in the mid-1970s (and, coincidentally, the same as public radio's). Would we have shut down our FM station for a day 30 years ago if we had a beef with copyright royalties? I don't think so.
Ruth Seymor, KCRW: KCRW 89.9 FM/Santa Monica and KCRW.com will join with fellow webcasters for a Day of Silence, Tuesday June 26th. The station will shut down regular programming on all three of its webstreams as a protest against the new high music royalties for Internet radio, established by the Copyright Royalty Board in March. KCRW will produce a one-hour program D-Day for Webcasters featuring Pandora, Live365, Yahoo, AccuRadio, SomaFM, indie webcaster Bagel Radio and public radio station WAMU/Washington, DC among others. They will join host Ruth Seymour, KCRW s General Manager, to describe the effects that the new rates will have on their ability to stream and to serve audiences online. D-Day for Webcasters will be webcast all day Tuesday, June 26th on KCRW.com. It will be also be broadcast on KCRW s airwaves on Tuesday, June 26th from 2 to 3 pm PDT. Webcasters are supporting the Internet Radio Equality Act, which has garnered bipartisan support in the House as well as the Senate. In addition, they have filed appeals and a request for a stay with the US District Court in Washington, DC. However, if none of these tactics succeed, webcasters will be required to send checks to Sound Exchange, the collection agency for the record companies and the artists, on July 15th. Rates are retroactive to 2006.
To my earlier comments, which stand, I'd add that for most public radio stations, the problem isn't so much the cost of royalties (if your over-the-air music station doesn't have a weekly cume above roughly 100,000 listeners, the chances of your royalty payment exceeding the floor is small), it's the administrative expense.
I agree with Mark's comments about pledge punishing the listeners. But in this case, turning off the streams is meting out punishment to a class of service that we need to build. Listeners are distributed differently geographically and sometimes find they're finally getting public radio for the first time in their office building. True, no one is close to breaking even on their web services, but if you look at FM at a much later point in its development, we weren't "breaking even" on that either and many still aren't. In the geological time of public broadcasting, the importance of listener-sensitive revenue is a relatively recent phenomenon. For much of our history (and even today for many stations in small and medium markets), some other source of revenue trumps the listener-sensitive revenue we consider when we say "breaking even." FM took more than three decades to reach the listening level that Internet radio has today (for cume, if perhaps not for AQH).
We'll figure out this business about royalties and business models. If I'm invited back for our station's centennial when I'm 75, I'll be surprised if radio-over-IP isn't as important to its aggregate listenership as over-the-air is today.