Saturday, March 31, 2007

Framing the Policy Debate: The Fight Over the Satellite Radio Merger is on!

It's well known to most of you how much I love radio. Let me reset that... I love good radio. Good radio programming is coming in many shapes and forms these days. I listen to a lot of podcasts for example, a habit that is relatively new (about 24 months, perhaps). And I would listen to more radio broadcasting in my car or even over my receiver at home if I lived in a country that gave a damn about quality and variety like, say, Canada. But no, I live in the US where the only radio that is distinguished as quality and local are the sports talk stations that pepper the AM dial. It's a cliche, but if you drive through America the rule of the airwaves is similarity, not difference.

Which has spurred conversations with my fiance' about getting sattelite programming just for Air America and Stern. Of course, one is on XM and the other on Sirius, so we choose neither. In light or crap local programming and the loss of our Air America affiliate to an even crappier version of right-wing talk (does anyone, can anyone even listen to ten minutes of Laura Ingraham? Stupid and snoozeworthy is quite a vicious combo), the XM-Sirius merger is the kind of gift but you knew the NAB would fight it. After all they have a monopoly and any competition that erodes audience is to be resisted. And what we are seeing now by both the Sat Radio and Terrestial Radio camps is a lesson from argumentation 101: framing is key to any argument
How Congress and government regulators frame the debate over a merger -- specifically, whether they consider new gadgets and services such as iPods, music-playing cellphones and high-definition radio to be in competition with satellite radio -- could have a profound impact on the future of other media businesses.

The NAB, which lobbies for traditional radio and television companies, is in an awkward position, some government officials say. On one hand, NAB members argue that satellite radio's national coverage does not compete with traditional radio stations' local presence.

"I don't see how anyone can say that Clear Channel competes head-to-head with satellite radio in a national market," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, referring to the radio company that owns hundreds of local stations. "It doesn't have a national footprint in every market in America like satellite radio."

But separately, the NAB is trying to make a case with the FCC that traditional radio companies do compete with satellite radio and therefore should be allowed to own more local stations than current rules permit.

Sirius chief executive Mel Karmazin, who testified before Congress this month, defines the market differently. He maintains that satellite radio is only one player in an broader "audio entertainment" market that has changed dramatically since the FCC approved the licensing of satellite-radio providers 10 years ago.

Car stereo systems, he said, are equipped to play music from iPods, while cellphone companies sell sports programming and music downloads. "I can't imagine who could say we're not competing with some of those things," Karmazin said in an interview yesterday. "If you're listening to music on an iPod while driving in your car, you're not listening to satellite radio."
My favorite part of the above block is how the NAB is resisting competition with one hand while trying to lobby for even more of a monopoly position with the other. Gotta hand it to them: too much is never enough!

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