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Radio News: Pay to play is legal on the internet and on the radio

Mar 15, 2015 2:43 pm
The Federal Communications Commission's recent ruling allowing "net neutrality" may give some consumers the idea that companies can't pay more money to create fast lanes on the internet for certain services. Corporations have many ways around those rules, John Bergmayer and Shiva Stella in Slate.com report. Comcast, for one, is refusing to sell its own video programming to other online video providers, such as Netflix. The HBO Go app launched March 3 for the PlayStation 4, but not for Comcast Xfinity subscribers who already pay for HBO. "If you try to access HBO Go on a Comcast Internet connection using Verizon-provided credentials, you can. But if you try to access HBO Go on a Verizon Internet connection using Comcast-provided credentials, you can't," the Slate story says. Last year it was reported that Comcast had blocked people with Rokus from accessing HBO Go and Showtime. Slate says Comcast also refuses to authenticate Hulu even though it shares Hulu ownership. Generally, if a company will pay enough, companies such as Comcast will allow authentication, if not, consumers are out of luck. This happens on the radio too. Edward Ericson Jr. in Baltimore's City Paper recently reported about how local non-commercial NPR affliate WYPR (88.1-FM) regularly blurs the line between programming and underwriting. "Programming produced by a Johns Hopkins public-relations professional, the CEO of the National Aquarium, a pair of local restaurateurs, and a prominent local economist -- all of whose corporate employers underwrite programming on the station -- blend in with work by radio journalists and talk-show hosts with no other allegiance or means of support," Erickson wrote. On one WYPR show, “Baltimore’s Future," host David Warnock touts the work of the recipients of grants dispensed by the Warnock Foundation, its subsidiary “Baltimore Social Innovation Journal,” and nonprofits he chairs. Warnock donates more than $200,000 a year to the Warnock Foundation, and the weekly four-minute show contains no disclaimers about his finance company or its many corporate clients, and was, until recently, underwritten by the Warnock Foundation. Does that sound like pay-to-play? Current FCC rules actually allow pay-to-play, if the payment is disclosed at the time of the airplay. Record companies could, right now, pay radio stations to play certain songs if they disclose that fact as they play the music. But no radio station wants to come on and say, "that Beyonce track was paid for by Columbia Records." Radio broadcasters and the recording industry would like to change that, however. Last November, the Radio Broadcasters Coalition, nine corporations that own most commercial radio stations, filed a petition with the FCC seeking a class waiver of the Commission’s requirement that broadcasters air sponsorship identification announcements at the time sponsored material is broadcast. Instead, the Coalition wants radio broadcasters airing "sponsored" music or sports programming to be permitted to air less frequent on-air announcements with "enhanced" online disclosures. The FCC is asking for comments on this proposal on or before April 13 and reply comments on or before May 12. All filings must reference MB Docket No. 15-52. Here is the link to file comments with the FCC: http://wireless.fcc.gov/index.htm?job=file_comments_fcc
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