I've just returned from this year's Radio Advertising Bureau convention in Dallas. In reflecting on the convention, and in discussing it with many who were in attendance, the consensus was that this was not your Father's RAB convention. I was surprised by how little discussion there was of traditional radio at the conference. The sessions weren't the typical ones about how to make the most money from selling your cluster of radio stations in combination, or how to compete against the newspaper or the Yellow Pages, or how to get the most out of your sales staff. Instead, virtually every session talked about leveraging your digital assets. There were discussions of using your website, streaming, podcasts, text messaging, and audio on cell phones to increase the financial performance of broadcast stations. There were discussions of HD Radio and some of the opportunities that service might offer if and when it starts getting consumer acceptance. All in all, it seemed as if radio (or at least those planning the convention sessions) had received the message that the industry needs to take advantage of its ability to drive traffic to new technologies, and drive that traffic to new media sources that stations themselves create.
In the past, there seemed to be a fear about discussing these new technologies. It was almost as if the technologies weren't discussed, they'd go away. But at the RAB, and at many of the conventions of the state broadcast associations that I have attended over the last year, broadcasters seemed to have decided that they need to embrace the new media. While the old fear had been that these new media sources would cannibalize the current broadcast audience, everyone seems to now recognize that the audience is going to use these technologies no matter what - so the broadcaster might as well be the one cannibalizing its own audience.
While legal and regulatory issues do not tend to be the primary topic of discussion at the RAB Conference, as in almost any broadcast discussion, they do come up. Here too, the discussion was digital. For instance, in the speech by NAB President David Rehr outlining the priorities of the NAB for the year, only the effort to authorize FM translators for AM stations (which we wrote about here), was not a "digital" topic. The other issues discussed by Mr. Rehr included pushing the FCC for final rules for digital radio, monitoring the actions of satellite radio companies XM and Sirius, and finally, the issues that arise out of the Perform Act. The Perform Act is a copyright bill introduced in the Senate last month that would affect digital royalties for music used on the Internet, place restrictions on services promoting the promotion and sale by digital music providers of devices that disaggregate songs contained in a digital stream, and require copy protection technologies to be employed by digital music providers. Hardly the exciting stuff that makes for an applause line in a convention speech. While we will write more about the Perform Act in a separate posting, the major concern for broadcasters is that the sponsor, California Senator Diane Feinstein, suggested in her remarks that the performance royalty on sound recordings which now applies to satellite radio and webcasting (which we have written about many times including here), should also apply to broadcast radio. And that is a big enough issue - one that could hit broadcasters directly in the pocketbook - that it demands the industry's attention in every forum.