Comments Due September 24 on Audio Competition Report – Setting the Stage for Radio Ownership Reform?

The state of the audio industry will no doubt be a crucial consideration in the next Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules, expected to start late this year or early next. But, before that Review begins, the FCC has been tasked by Congress to write a report on the state of competition in the audio marketplace. In order to gather information for that report to Congress, the FCC is seeking public comment on the state of the industry, asking questions about the state of completion for listeners and advertisers – questions which we summarized here. A summary of the request for comments on the “Status of Competition in the Marketplace for Delivery of Audio Programming” was published in the Federal Register today, setting the comment deadline for September 24, 2018, with reply comments due by October 9.

With this report being prepared just as the FCC is beginning to consider what issues to tackle in the Quadrennial Review, we cannot help but believe that the FCC’s findings won’t be taken into consideration in the Quadrennial Review. The initial document to be released in the Quadrennial Review will be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking putting forth the FCC’s initial take on whether any of its ownership rules are no longer in the public interest and therefore need to be modified or eliminated. The radio rules have not been subject to any changes in a dozen years, when the FCC switched from using a contour methodology to using Nielsen Audio (then Arbitron) data to compute the number of stations in a rated market. The number of stations any party is able to own in any market has remained unchanged since 1996, though audio competition has clearly grown (see our article here). The facts gathered in this report, while meant for consumption by Congress in its consideration of various legislative matters, will also be the FCC’s most thorough look at the marketplace in which radio competes in 20 years and will likely inform the FCC’s judgement as to whether the radio ownership rules should be amended (see our article here summarizing the NAB’s proposal for changing the rules). Thus, broadcast companies interested in changes in the radio ownership rules should be thinking about providing information to the FCC about the state of competition in the audio marketplace by the September 24 deadline.