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NAB X-Stream 2001

RIAA, AFTRA, RIAA still struggle to agree on Internet performance rights By Keith Rowland
NAB XStreamJust returning from the very humid New Orleans, I'd thought I'd report on some of the activities and discussions going on at The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Radio Show and NAB X-Stream conference. While this show is not a big as the full NAB show in Las Vegas, which covers all fields of broadcasting including the television industry, this was the first time that the Radio Show included the new arena of broadcasting on the Internet. The X-Stream conference was the area I attended.

On the lighter side, the interest in broadcasting on the Internet was huge. There were sessions describing what kind of content, both audio and video, was appropriate for web viewers and listeners. Discussion really focused on how to make money with streaming media. It comes as no surprise, companies can only provide rich-media content on the web, if it's profitable for them to do so. Fortunately, the cost of streaming is coming down, and it was shown that sponsors are still interested in advertising on the web, but only where good content is prevalent. Many examples of profitable streaming ventures where presented. It was shown through many statistical reports, that streaming media is on the rise, in both listener demand and sources of diverse content.

On the darker side, many issues are rising that stand to limit the progress of streaming media. There is still the AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) issue, where the union for radio talent was requesting to be paid up to 3 times the going rate for any talent that appeared on Internet streams. This means any terrestrial radio station that was streaming their station audio on the net was asked by the advertising agencies to stop broadcasting as they were not in a position to pay this excessive fee. You may have noticed many stations went off the Internet a few months ago. Only some of them are back, with mechanisms in place to swap out the on-air advertising audio with newer web-only content.

In addition to the AFTRA issue, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the NAB are in opposite corners in the "Recording Performance Rights" issue. The RIAA, which represents the record companies, wants to charge an extra fee to all Internet broadcasters for the use of their recorded content. Radio stations have been paying the artists for their work through organizations like ASCAP and BMI, but have been exempt from paying recording companies over the years since the RIAA never established a fee schedule in the early years of radio. But now with a new distribution channel available on the Internet, the RIAA wants to cash in. This is the same RIAA that is going after the illegal file swapping services like Napster and its look-alikes. So the RIAA is certainly making a few enemies lately.

An interesting debate sort of occurred during the show. On different days, the RIAA vs NAB issue was debated. First, Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Mossberg gave a keynote speech to the attendees which he lambasted the RIAA for their tactics. He did whole-heartedly agree that we need to protect artists copyrights, but suggests that Napster showed everyone how consumers want to get their music. Mossberg states that something needs to be developed by the RIAA to allow customers to sample the music they are interested in before purchasing it online and not to treat potential customers as criminals.

Mossberg presented his view on the future in radio broadcasting. He showed a cell-phone that could listen to streaming audio, a CD-ROM based MP3 player with a 600 MEG CD-ROM full of his favorite music and suggested that all these and other alternative forms of getting music would be a threat to traditional broadcasting. He stated his own children don't listen to radio much anymore. He sees the customization of a personal music library to be highly more desirable than listening to pre-programmed radio. He told of his son's parties with his friends and how they just load up their computer with MP3 files and play them all night.

On the next day, Hilary Rosen, President of the RIAA got her chance to rebuff Mossberg. Before addressing the Napster issue, Rosen directed her beginning remarks on the Recording Performance Licensing issue. The NAB and the RIAA are in direct opposition on this issue. The radio broadcaster wants to be able to stream their signals on the net without incurring excessive fees to play music. The broadcasters argue that their radio stations are the primary source for introducing the record company's music to the public. In fact, the Internet streams of such music often include a player which identifies the artist, song title and the album name and even a link to an online store to buy it. Over the air broadcasters are reducing the amount of song identification. Hillary herself sated she has been campaigning to get radio stations to identify their music being played. However, I think the RIAA has got this licensing thing all backwards. The Internet radio stations are more likely to generate CD sales, more so than radio stations since they identify the music and give listeners easy ways to purchase it. Why would the RIAA want to punish internet broadcasters and let terrestrial broadcasters get away with using their music without identification for free?

Rosen very eloquently consoled the gathering of broadcasters, stating her case for continued representation of the recording companies interests, but suggested that the lawyers could be thrown out of the room and a deal could be made with broadcasters. Many presenters in the conference sessions stated the difference between the sides was very extreme.

Rosen then addressed the Napster issues and rebuffed a charge from Mossberg that the RIAA was trying to institute a plan where you'd purchase music on-line, but it would be essentially a rental with time limits set in the downloaded files. Rosen suggested this was not the case, but that they are working to present a fair and workable system. However she also solicited any ideas from the public on how this can be accomplished.

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Related Keywords:Keith Rowland, NAB Radio Show, NAB X-Stream, digital webcast, streaming audio, radio, broadcast, Art Bell, Digital WebCast

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