Window Brings Surge of Translator Deals

On Friday, the FCC opened a six-month filing window for AM broadcasters to acquire existing FM translators, and move them up to 250 miles into their local coverage areas. This is part of the agency’s AM revitalization initiative — though it’s still not exactly clear how FM spectrum fixes AM’s fundamental difficulties.

This window is exclusive to lower-power AM broadcasters; the large “flamethrower” stations will get a crack at the translator shuffle later this summer, and then the FCC plans to open an application window for new translator stations next year. The marketplace for translators, which has been simmering mightily underground for nearly a decade, has fully burst into the mainstream with the FCC’s blessing. Read More

iHeartMedia Facing Reorganization Pressures

Much interesting news on the iHeartMedia front already in the new year. The wildly overleveraged conglomerate ended 2015 with an announcement that it hoped to convince some of its shareholders to swap debt they hold against the company for stock. It’s assumed iHeart is still on track to try and float this proposal later this spring.

However, it would seem that some shareholders would like to take matters into their own hands. Just days after iHeart announced its swap-plan, the New York Post reported that several large stockholders planned to pressure the company to devote nearly $200 million this month toward debt reduction. This would shave off less than 1% of the $21+ billion the company owes, though it would be a small step toward ameliorating what one unnamed banker calls “clearly not a sustainable capital structure.” Read More

Al Jazeera America Done in by Team Cable, Cheap Oil

Seemingly out of nowhere: last Wednesday the executives at the award-winning cable news channel Al Jazeera America called an all-hands meeting and announced they would be closing down at the end of April. More than 700 people are expected to lose their jobs. AJAM first launched on 2013 and has struggled mightily to achieve a meaningful audience and generate advertising revenue.

Many of the preemptive post-mortems of AJAM assert that the problem with the channel was its journalism. Al Jazeera more broadly has a reputation for doing the style of reporting that curries no favor with the powerful, making for a fresh perspective in the U.S. cable news world. It also attracted a substantial roster of solid journalists from both commercial and public television.

The focus on AJAM’s content is misguided, for in many respects the network had the deck stacked against it before it ever took to the air. For this, you can primarily blame Team Cable: Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, Charter, et al., the de facto oligopoly which functions as a gatekeeper to the cable television platform itself. Read More

HD Radio’s High Hopes for 2016

2015 was a potentially pivotal year for HD Radio, if only for a changing of the guard in the system’s ownership. In September, audio technology company DTS Inc. announced the acquisition of iBiquity Digital Corporation, the proprietor of the HD Radio Standard, for $172 million. Last month, DTS’ chairman and CEO, Jon Kirchner, penned a paean to the technology in an industry trade.

Calling HD “the biggest advancement in terrestrial radio broadcasting since the advent of FM radio,” Kirchner is obviously very upbeat on the technology’s prospects. His biggest hope is pinned to using HD Radio as a pipeline for “wider adoption of HD Radio and various DTS technologies,” supposedly working in concert, primarily in the automotive space. This, Kirchner believes, will foster an “independent and neutral [digital radio] platform for the radio industry.”

Two weeks after penning this missive, DTS announced a management shakeup at iBiquity. Founding CEO Bob Struble has been set aside (to become a “special advisor” to Kirchner) while iBiquity chief operating officer Jeff Jury was promoted to a new managerial-level position within DTS responsible for both “Automotive” and HD Radio. Read More

Extinction-Level Event For Small Commercial U.S. Webcasters?

Right before the holidays, and with little fanfare, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board released its revised rate-structure for the music royalties streaming audio services must pay. Not surprisingly, large “pure-play” services like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music saw their rates per-song/per-listener increase (though they say they can weather the increased cost), while terrestrial AM/FM radio broadcasters actually caught a break. No change for noncommercial webcasters, who play a flat yearly fee up until they hit a certain song/listener threshold (which the vast majority never do).

However, the CRB rates do not include special carve-outs for small, indepdendent, commercial webcasters, who (since 2008-9) typically pay a percentage of their revenue to satisfy the royalty gods. In the past, these deals have been negotiated between this constituency and SoundExchange, the music industry’s streaming royalty-clearinghouse in charge of collecting and disbursing royalty payments, and then codified into the CRB’s rate structure. Read More