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International: Report: Big Radio is fewer formats, smaller audience

15-December-2006
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International: Report: Big Radio is fewer formats, smaller audience

Consolidation of radio is killing the medium, giving audiences few choices of music, artists, formats and local voices, says a report released by the D.C.-based Future of Music Coalition. The report, which looks at the radio industry since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 went into effect and its impact on the recording industry, claims that “ownership consolidation at the national and local levels has led to fewer choices in radio programming and harmed the listening public and those working in the music and media industries, including DJs, programmers and musicians.”

Consolidation of radio is killing the medium, giving audiences few choices of music, artists, formats and local voices, says a report released Wednesday (Dec. 13) by the D.C.-based Future of Music Coalition. The report, which looks at the radio industry since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 went into effect and its impact on the recording industry, claims that “ownership consolidation at the national and local levels has led to fewer choices in radio programming and harmed the listening public and those working in the music and media industries, including DJs, programmers and musicians.”

While big media companies gobbling up smaller media companies has long drawn the attention of Congress and the public alike, this report attempts to detail the effect consolidation has on the consuming public. The reports finds that four radio station owners have almost half of the listeners and “the top ten owners have almost two-thirds of listeners.” Corporate radio has also spawned a slew of out-of-town owners that challenge "localness" of radio, the report contends. “Ownership by individuals living in the community has declined between 1975 and 2005 by almost one-third.”

The report finds that “just fifteen formats make up three-quarters of all commercial programming,” which the FMC refers to as a “cookie cutter” effect. The report goes on to say that ”niche musical formats like classical, jazz, Americana, bluegrass, new rock and folk, where they exist, are provided almost exclusively by smaller station groups.”

The big got bigger, says the report, as the 10 largest radio operators increased “by almost fifteen times from 1985 to 2005” and the 50 largest groups “increased almost sevenfold.”

Subsequently, national advertising revenue jumped from 12% for the top four companies in 1993 to 50% market share for the top four companies in 2004, the report found.

The study, written by the group’s research director, Peter DiCola, hints that consolidation has resulted in the evaporation of the listening audience. It looked at 155 radio markets and found that radio listenership declined over the past 14 years by 22% since its peak in 1989 and says “consolidation allowed by the Telecom Act has failed to reverse this trend.”

A few blocks away from the FMC headquarters, the folks at the NAB were armed and ready for the report: "The facts demonstrate a different story, according to BIA Financial Network (BIAfn), a Chantilly, Va.-based firm that analyzes the media and telecommunications industries,” the NAB said in a prepared statement. The NAB says BIA data finds the number of general programming formats provided by local radio stations has increased by 7.5% since 2001, and that “markets of all sizes saw substantial increases in the average number of specific programming formats provided, with an average 22.2% increase since 2001.” It also claims that across all markets since 1996, “the number of general and specific programming formats has increased by 16% and 36.4%, respectively.”

The NAB argues that consolidation has not stifled diversity but rather has sparked an explosion of new formats including -- in the last six years -- a near-46% increase in the number of U.S. Spanish-language radio stations broadcasting Mexican, Tejano and Ranchera music today. The NAB also contends that urban stations targeting the African-American community have soared in the last decade, with programming ranging from urban/talk, urban AC, urban CHR, urban/jazz, rhythm and blues, and urban/gospel. “FMC’s long history of producing questionable research and dubious data to fulfill its agenda-driven mission is apparent for all to see,” responded NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “As the BIA Financial Network study indicates, free local radio has more format diversity than at any time in its rich history. “

Wharton adds that “with the advent of HD Radio, local radio will be providing more news, more music formats, and more public service for the 260 million people who tune in every week."

Source: Mediaweek

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