Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Will UK Pull the Plug on AM & FM Radio? Should the US?

2006 has seen radical shifts in the production and distribution of content. Studios and networks are determined not to suffer the fate of the music industry. The network embrace of digital distribution kicked off in October 2005 with the ABC-iTunes deal and it has accelerated throughout this year. Today brings news of distribution deals between BitTorrent and 20th Century Fox, G4, Kadokawa, Lionsgate, MTV Networks, Palm Pictures, Paramount and Starz Media. All this by means of the wired internet. New rounds of investment ($25 million lead by Accel Partners)

So far most of the action has been on the wired Internet. But the digital media revolution is also going mobile which means that there's a whole new industry on the prowl for radio spectrum.

The communications regulators in the UK are thinking radically. To find new spectrum for new services, they just might let existing broadcast licenses expire. Red Herring reports that regulators in the UK are considering denying license renewals to today's AM and FM stations. Video killed the radio star, but mobile video may actually kill the whole industry.

Mickeleh's Take: Could it happen here? Should it? In the US, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) is a powerful lobby, fiercely protective of spectrum. The whole march to HDTV began in 1986 when the FCC was considering reassigning unused spectrum reserved for TV channels. Broadcasters lobbied that they'd need the spectrum in the future for HDTV. (The political-corporate-technological battles to define our current HDTV standards are detailed in Joel Brinkleys Defining Vision: How Broadcasters Lured the Government into Inciting a Revolution in Television). Would the NAB fight for radio spectrum today? Could they prevail against the Telecoms? Or might they join foreces and swap AM & FM for new and more lucrative subscription and pay services?

The best of radio is long dead. Norman Corwin, FDR's fireside chats, The Mercury Theatre of the Air, Oxydol's Own Ma Perkins, Wolfman Jack, Dan Ingram, and KSAN are all making their way to distant galaxies in an expanding radio bubble. What's left is Jack and the whole sorry right-wing talk gang.

If you ran the FCC, would you be pondering what UK regulators are pondering?

(Tags: )