FCC Asked to Vet Broadcaster Refusal to Air Local Choice Ads

MusicFIRST has asked the FCC to investigate the fact that some CBS radio stations are refusing to air ads in favor of Local Choice, a Senate Commerce Committee proposal that would allow cable and satellite subs to pick and choose among broadcast stations according to the cost, but not extend the same choice to cable channels.

That is a point broadcasters have been making in fighting the proposal as one that would hurt their business model, while failing to get to what they argue is the crux of the cable bill problem—the scores or hundreds of cable channels subs must pay for.

MusicFIRST wants the FCC to add the Local Choice ad issue to its open docket on radio broadcasters' decision not to run ads in support of the Performance Right Act, which broadcasters also oppose as a threat to their business model.

The Act, strongly backed by musicFIRST, would require broadcasters to pay a performance fee for songs they air. Currently, there is a blanket license for publishers, but broadcasters have always argued that the artists have historically benefitted and continue to do so from the promotional value of airplay.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, MusicFIRST executive director Ted Kalo pointed out that the docket in its petition for a declaratory ruling that broadcasters' refusal to air the Performance Right Act ads was not in the public interest has been open since 2009 (the petition was filed Aug. 7 of that year).

Calling it a pattern of abuse, Kalo said: "We have recently learned that the broadcasters’ pattern of abuse continues. This past month, the American Television Alliance ('ATVA') produced ads supporting a bipartisan 'local choice' legislative proposal by Senators Rockefeller and Thune (a proposed addition to the pending Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act). It has been widely reported, however, that multiple CBS radio stations have refused to air these ads. At the same time, we are advised that ads opposing the 'local choice' proposal, produced by the NAB, have been aired on those same stations."

Kalo called for prompt, corrective action.

A CBS Radio spokesperson has told B&C/MultiChannel News the ads did not meet its standards, but would not elaborate on the reasons.

In a press release, musicFIRST suggested it was TV stations not airing the ads, and that they were new allegations. But a copy of the letter from Kalo referenced only radio and the radio ads from the American Television Alliance, and the group later issued a correction to clarify that it was radio, not TV stations, choosing not to air the ad.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.