PRA progress moves battle to the lobby


The two judiciary committees have had their say on the Performance Rights Act, and both moved the bill on toward the floor in their respective houses. The most immediate reaction in the aftermath is likely to be heightened lobby work from NAB and RIAA.

The RIAA’s musicFIRST Coalition has naturally been pleased with the movement of the bills out of committee. “We are making unprecedented progress. Two congressional committees have now approved a bill to create a fair performance right on radio, said Executive Director Jennifer Bendall. “We ask broadcasters and the new leadership at the NAB to join with us.  Together we can create a performance right on radio that is fair to artists, musicians and rights holders, fair to other radio platforms that pay a performance royalty, and fair to AM and FM music radio.”

So far NAB has declined to accept anything less than the total defeat of the bill. The organization has accepted the fact that the membership deck was stacked against it in both judiciary committees and has fully expected that the battle would turn into a floor fight from the beginning.

NAB’s Dennis Wharton told Roll Call that PRA “is the No. 1 issue for radio broadcasters in the last 20 years.”

From a broadcast perspective, it is especially disheartening that there has been no attempt whatsoever to attach a monetary value to free airplay. Yes, the song provides a station with three minutes of programming, but it is also a three-minute commercial for the artist and distributor behind the music. The music and recording industries have benefitted from this relationship for decades, and to this day record execs still beg for airplay.

That information may be coming, if perhaps belatedly. At the 10/15/09 Senate Judiciary markup of PRA, Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he was going to commission a CBO study to attempt to attach a value to free airplay.

It is also impossible to figure out how stations would pay for this if it did become law. A station with gross revenue of $1,250,000.01 would be liable for the full brunt of the royalty. How many stations with that level of total income are even making a profit right now?

According to Roll Call, RIAA has already invested $3.4M in the lobby this year, and NAB has spent $5.8M  — although at least in NAB’s case, that sum represents the total it has spent on ALL lobbying, which includes many more issues, like SHVERA, DTV, webcasting, indecency, the reporters shield and others. Those numbers figure to increase.

RBR-TVBR observation: The NAB has had great success drumming up support for broadcasters in the House – 251 members support the Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution that opposes the creation of any new fees levied on local broadcast stations.

Now we’ll see if new President Gordon Smith can lead the way to a repeat performance in the Senate. Only 26 senators have signed up for Local Radio Freedom. Smith was a moderate Republican from Oregon with a reputation for working across the aisle – he’ll need to put his experience and skills to work immediately.