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Is Internet Radio silence golden?

From Inside Radio:

More stations are pulling their webcasts — but not everyone likes the idea. The radio industry’s not entirely convinced tomorrow’s “Internet Day of Silence” is the best route to raise concerns about higher royalty rates. A CBS spokeswoman confirms “we will not be participating” while another big group says it’s still undecided. Its Internet chief tells Inside Radio “we’re not convinced that we want to throw another wrench in the works when listeners are having a hard enough time listening to our stations online.” He says they’ll make a decision today. Meantime the biggest radio streamer — Clear Channel — hasn’t said which way it’s going.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if a major public corporation hasn’t decided by now regarding an event to take place tomorrow, it has decided not to participate, and not to say so (P.S. If you don’t want to participate, at least have the courage to say so).

This grassroots effort is a vital way to mobilize and generate attention for an issue of concern to many Internet radio listeners and, presumably, to those who will eventually take their listening online. So if that’s the case, why haven’t more radio groups climbed aboard?

Here are some of the reasons I come up with:

1. First and foremost, some groups believe the death of Internet Radio is a blessing. They feel that the less Internet radio there is, the better off they will be. In fact, if all Internet radio stations disappeared tomorrow such that terrestrial stations could shut down their streaming efforts, I’m sure many would be glad to do so.

2. Stations aren’t convinced this issue matters to their listeners. And perhaps it doesn’t.

3. Stations don’t connect the increase in rates for Internet broadcasters with the legitimacy of such a rate increase which will, in turn, justify further rate hikes aimed squarely at the radio industry.

4. Too many messages. The net stream is an adjunct to the on-air stream, and turning off the net stream will cause confusion which will need to be explained. That explanation comes at the cost of communicating other core messages to listeners. It is, in other words, a distraction from a larger purpose.

Radio will, in other words, be victimized by its lack of vision.

Because not only will this rate hike, if it’s approved, come back to haunt radio by setting a precedent for what “fair” compensation is, not only will it cause many broadcasters to abandon their streaming efforts (if they had any to begin with), it will also kill most small webcasters leaving room only for the folks with deep pockets and a long view of the future

…and those competitors will be far more formidable to the radio industry than any collection of mom & pop webcasters, no matter how large.

The music industry doesn’t care if a zillion websites play their product online. They care that a handful of megasites do – and pay for the privilege. They care that if the Internet becomes the medium by which their content is monetized, then the only folks still standing who can afford to offer their content are the ones who can monetize it.

It is in YOUR interest that those megaplayers have competition from millions of webcasters the world over. It is in YOUR interest that webcasting is affordable for your station.

If you think a vanishing Internet Radio ecosystem is good for radio, you are quite wrong.

I don’t particularly believe that most folks will be getting their music fix from a computer in the years to come (and that’s primarily how Internet radio is delivered now), but I do believe the net will become a critical medium whereby music and other audio content is deployed to an infinite variety of players and other goods, some of which will be portable, all of which will compete with radio.

So if you want a world where radio competes against deep-pocketed cross-industry competitors with a long vision, feel free to stand by and do nothing. Raising the cost of their business will likewise raise the cost of yours at a time when you can least afford it.

Stroll past this sleeping dragon at your own risk. POSTSCRIPT:

I have received some very thoughtful complaints about my position above because I left out a very important reason why some broadcasters wouldn’t participate in this “day of silence”: Because they genuinely believe it is contrary to the interests of their audience (how could I forget that one?).

My error notwithstanding, you’ll note that nowhere in the post have I argued that broadcasters should join this day of silence. What I’m arguing is that broadcasters had better do battle against these proposed rate hikes, because their interests are aligned with the interests of webcasters in this regard. How that battle rages is less important than the notion that it must rage. I don’t know how effective a day of silence will be, and I have deep misgivings about it personally, but I’m wide open to other ideas. Bueller…..Bueller????

Of course, while dropping the stream for a day is “anti-listener,” it is directed towards a larger goal which is unambiguously “pro-listener.”

What good is one day of streaming if it’s one of the last you’ll ever hear?

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