[This blog post was written by legal intern Adam Holofcener and Google Policy Fellow Liz Allen]
In January 2010, the FCC commissioned Steven Waldman, Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the FCC, to conduct a report on the Future of Media. As we’re very interested in the future of a particular type of media — music, duh — we were wating with baited breath.
On June 9, 2011, Waldman gave a presentation of the study’s findings to the FCC, in conjunction with the release of the slightly-longer-than-a-beach-read report, “The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age.” The FMC crew delved into the report while watching Waldman’s remarks stream over the FCC website. Although there’s plenty of information to chew on, the subject of music wasn’t really touched upon. Which is too bad, because we know for a fact that music has always played a huge role in driving media — from over-the-air radio to the internet.
While the report did champion media policies near and dear to our hearts — namely localism, competition and diversity — the study primarily focused on news reporting. Which is fine, but hardly the entire story, as a decade-plus of FMC original research points out.
Waldman and his team provided an overview of why the consolidation of print, radio, television and other news-gathering outlets has greatly affected the quality of information available to communities around the country. FMC has long warned of the dangers of media consolidation and how it leads to homogenized programming with little local focus. We’re especially concerned with radio, where consolidation in commercial station ownership has created major barriers for local and independent artists. This is why we were dismayed to see so little attention given to music in the report. That said, the section on public broadcasting did mention the role music plays in the non-commercial space. Maybe the report should’ve included the Decemberists, who wrote a letter telling members of Congress just that.
The report recognized the goals of public broadcasting as providing a mix of educational, cultural, talk, public affairs and musical programming. The latter, it found, makes up about one-third of all public radio listening, with public broadcasting stations playing a diverse array of music rarely heard on the commercial dial. Apart from this shout-out , the report didn’t delve much deeper into any of the issues surrounding music as a vital component of media. It did, however, touch upon broad issues facing radio, such as the movement from the airwaves to the internet. The report also briefly commented on broadcasters’ concerns about Internet Service Providers charging higher prices for he delivery of online content, which would put them at a disadvantage compared to well-heeled corporate enterprises. (For more information on preserving a level playing field for musicians, innovators and entrepreneurs, check out our Rock the Net page.)
Music briefly resurfaces in a section about Low Power FM radio stations (a topic to which the whopping report dedicates a mere one-and-a-half pages). Once again, it focuses mainly on news, but there is the recognition of how LPFM can serve minority communities, non-English speaking listeners and local arts and culture. While music wasn’t the main focus of the discussion, the report noted that LPFM stations often provide radio exposure for local and independent artists who are unlikely to be heard on area commercial stations.
Overall, we would have liked to see more discussion about music as a type of media in its own right. On the other hand, where music was mentioned, it came up in contexts that we also care about. So while the “Future of Media” report didn’t have much to say about the future of you know, music, hopefully it will be useful in showing the many reasons that real local radio is so important.