Same Old Song: An Analysis of Radio Playlists in a Post-FCC Consent Decree World
Future of Music Coalition
In April 2007, the Federal Communications Commission and the nation’s four largest radio station group owners – Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel and Entercom – signed a voluntary agreement as a response to collected evidence and widespread allegations about payola influencing what gets played on the radio. It has been two years since the FCC, radio station group owners and independent labels met around the table. The immediate questions for the music and policymaking community are: Did these agreements serve their purpose? Have payola-like practices been curtailed? Did the agreements have any effect on what gets played on the radio?
Using playlist data licensed from Mediaguide, Future of Music Coalition (FMC) examined four years of airplay – 2005-2008 – from national playlists, and from seven specific music formats: AC, Urban AC, Active Rock, Country, CHR Pop, Triple A Commercial and Triple A Noncommercial. FMC looked at each playlist and calculated the "airplay share" for five different categories of record labels to determine whether the ratio of major label to non-major label airplay has changed over the past four years.
The data in the report indicates almost no measurable change in station playlist composition over the past four years. While this may lead some to conclude that payola is alive and well, and that the Spitzer and FCC agreements were ineffective, the report instead views these results through a broader lens, using the data to describe the state of radio thirteen years after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The playlist data analysis underscores how radio’s long-standing relationships with major labels, its status quo programming practices and the permissive regulatory structure all work together to create an environment in which songs from major label artists continue to dominate. The major labels’ built-in advantage, in large part the cumulative benefit of years payola-tainted engagement with commercial radio, combined with radio’s risk-averse programming practices, means there are very few spaces left on any playlist for new entrants. Independent labels, which comprise some 30 percent of the domestic music market, are left to vie for mere slivers of airtime, despite negotiated attempts to address this programming imbalance.
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