Jul 9, 2010

ACMA put digital radio local content quota on ice

Last week the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced it had registered a new code which would exempt digital commercial radio stations from local music quotas for three years, writes Tracey Grimson.

Last week the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced it had registered a new code which would exempt digital commercial radio stations from local music quotas for three years. Pulling the levers on this decision was Commercial Radio Australia (CRA). CRA put forward the new code to ACMA in spite of the concerns of music industry bodies that the process leading to the code’s registration had not been transparent nor consultative enough (claims refuted by CRA). In the media release announcing ACMA’s decision to register the code, Chairman Chris Chapman cited the new code as an opportunity for broadcasters to “experiment with programming formats”. The examples given as evidence of this were the already-deployed digital channels used to promote American pop artists Pink and Lady GaGa. CRA’s ubiquitous chief executive Joan Warner claimed the encouragement of “diversity” as an argument for nullifying the local quota. Warner and Chapman should go halves in a thesaurus. Warner in particular seems to be confusing her synonyms with her antonyms. These early days of digital radio are a critical proof-of-concept period. Any decisions taken now regarding composition of content will be much harder to shake in three years (when the code is up for review), when increased international dominance will have bedded in with audiences. Not to mention, when it comes to CRA’s core interest, with those powerful advertisers. No music community benefits from being self-reflective for the sake of it. And certainly establishing quotas is a very different beast to enforcing quality -- or even new -- programming. Nonetheless it remains important to support Australian content in terms of both the health of the local industry and the encouragement of local cultural creation. In the domestic ecosystem, the flow-on effect of excluding Australian artists from the digital pie appears to have been either ignored or ill-considered in killing the quota. Less radio airplay for big local artists (the sort you hear on commercial radio) means less record sales and less big tours, which means less support slots, less exposure for growing artists, less income for the domestic divisions of labels, less merchandise, less beer sold at venues, less work for local booking agents and managers, and so on. Symbolically what the ACMA registration suggests to artists is that Australian music – Australian stories – are neither worthy nor sticky enough to be depended upon to transition the industry into a new technological phase. This must seem like a sort of déjà vu to the artists who were cut from local rosters when the arse started to fall out of their labels’ bottom lines; labels which chose to ignore that other recent technology game changer, file-sharing, and then, when it was already too late, opted to waste resource and more time pursuing obstruction and litigation, rather than working progressively with the new technology at hand. Of course it will be up to individual broadcasters to decide to what extent they support Australian music across their portion of the digital spectrum. The landscape ought to look markedly different in the public and community sectors. (The ABC’s triple j, for example, has already run a month-long special event station as an extension of its Unearthed offering, dedicated to playing new and undiscovered Australian music .) But only one of the ten most played songs on commercial radio in 2009 was by a local artist. If ACMA and CRA are intent on further ghettoising local content, they should at least have the decency to call the decision what it is: a move squarely aimed at marketing and cultural reductivism. There’s nothing experimental or diverse about it.

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3 thoughts on “ACMA put digital radio local content quota on ice

  1. tmgrimson

    In the interests of full disclosure, this is the bio I sent to Crikey with this piece:

    Tracey Grimson is a former broadcaster and one-time General Manager of Sydney community radio station FBi 94.5fm, was Prize Director of the Australian Music Prize for 2008, and has worked on projects for a range of media and music organisations – across the private, public and non-profit sectors including, at one time, as a consultant for the Austereo commercial radio network. She once had a Pink song as her ringtone.

  2. Graham Cairns

    Teacup, meet storm!

    Whilst it will change state-by-state, it’s perhaps worthwhile to take a scan around my digital radio’s dial …

    (The quota I refer to is the standard quota imposed on broadcast radio …)

    ABC NewsRadio .. News
    ABC RadioNational – simulcast, meets quota
    ABC Classic – simulcast, exempt from quota given the nature of Classical music
    ABC Country – far exceeds quota
    ABC DigMusic – far exceeds quota
    ABC Grandstand – Sport
    ABC Jazz – I don’t listen … but I’d assume it is in the same position as ABC Classic
    ABC NAIDOC – it’s music is 100% Australian content, I believe
    B105 – Simulcast, so has to meet quota
    Classic Hits Live – probably doesn’t meet quota
    Edge digital – (Hip Hop, etc) hard to tell, but probably doesn’t meet quota
    Koffee – (Chill) Hard to tell, but probably doesn’t meet quota
    Nova – simulcast, so has to meet quota
    NovaNation – as a dance station, probably doesn’t meet quota
    Radar – 100% unsigned Aussie music
    Radio Gaga – off-air, so it doesn’t count 🙂
    SBS Chill – who knows? Probably meets quota
    SBS PopAsia – doesn’t play any Aussie music
    SBS Radio 1-6 – Again, who knows – but chances are they don’t
    The Buckle – Country, including Aus country. Probably meets quota
    MMM – simulcast, so should meet quota
    JJJ – simulcast, exceeds quota
    U20 – Austereo’s youth station … their playist will meet quota, but since individual presenters get to choose which tracks they play, who knows?
    4BC News/Talk
    4BH – simulcast, meets quota
    4KQ – simulcast, meets quota
    4kQ Plus – varies, depending on specialist programming
    4TAB – Horseracing
    ABC Local – meets quota
    973 – simulcast, meets quota

    So – most stations are going to meet the quota requirements of broadcast stations – and theose that don’t are more than compensated for by those that are all-Australian.

    All of this ignores the question of whether quotas are the best way of supporting the arts, in any case … but that’s an argument for another time.

  3. tmgrimson

    Thanks for all that info Graham, appreciated.

    The point here though is the music quota for commercial radio specifically. If CRA didn’t intend to play less local content, then there would be no reason for it to put forward a different code.

    It’s early days and, yes, a good slab of digital radio content is currently simulcast. But “event” stations like Radio GaGa will increase in prevalence. If CRA can make a commercial argument for stations which don’t include Australian music, you can bet it’ll use everything in its power to lobby for keeping the quota low or non-existent beyond the initial three years.

    And yes, there’s definitely an argument to be had on how best to support artists – clearly there’s no one silver bullet. However there is an established relationship between radio airplay and album sales at the commercial end of town and that has flow-on effects for artists all the way down the food chain.

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