burned you black

 

Few issues ignite as much passion as the debate over Australian content on commercial radio, and unfortunately the debate is often superficial.

By way of background: the content quotas are calculated from 6am to midnight and the percentages vary based on format, the highest percentage being required of any one format is 25%. It should be noted that digital and internet radio are exempt from any quotas, and this is a key point of contention from CRA.

A significant obstacle to having a reasoned discussion is that on the surface the idea of increasing content seems reasonable. A motherhood statement of ‘radio should play more australian music’ is likely to be agreeable to anyone without a vested interest.

For artists, and those who represent them, they have a tendency to make extreme demands. Take this comment made by a reader on music news site noise11.com:

‘(the quota) should be doubled and at least half of that should be new’ – Judi Kenneally

Populist and completely impractical.

That said: radio isn’t an innocent party. In its submission to the convergence review in October 2011, Commercial Radio Australia argued that quotas are not as effective in supporting Australian music as they could be, if they were applied not only to the commercial sector, but to other delivery platforms and services. A reasonable point.

However in the submission CRA’s CEO Joan Warner (right) went on to say:

‘to this end, CRA supports the removal of the Australian music content quota requirement in respect of commercial broadcasters…’.

This comment became the ‘headline’ and was widely reported.

Promoter Michael Chugg told Radio Today: 

‘It’s a fucking disgrace, there is no relationship between Australian music and radio, particularly at the younger level. It’s just fucked. The fucking last thing they care about is supporting Australian music’

I don’t believe CRA were advocating abolition with the goal of actually achieving that result. Rather, that they were doing so to make clear the strength of their view that quotas should apply across platforms. However, it had an unfortunate outcome as this position dominated the news and the other (quite reasonable) points were not given any ‘clear air’.

Paradoxically it could be argued that there was a strategic benefit in CRA making such an aggressive comment: in marketing terms, they launched a flanking attack on ARIA and changed the focus of the ‘battle’.

Until this point ARIA could take the high ground of ‘protecting Australian artists’ by arguing for an increase in the quota. CRA changed the battleground and forced ARIA into the position of arguing to even retain quotas, let alone increase them. It is highly unlikely that CRA seriously ever expected to gain any traction on the issue of quotas being removed completely.

Speaking with Radio Today CEO Joan Warner said:

’Our position always has been that in an ideal world there would be no quotas or any other kind of programming intervention by Government. However, given we do not operate in nirvana, and the quotas are unlikely to go, to impose quotas only on commercial radio and not on other radio sectors or the plethora of competing music delivery platforms is both unfair and inequitable’

Noise11 CEO Paul Cashmere agrees: “The radio industry should not be held accountable for the music industry downfall as much as the music industry should not be accountable for lower radio ratings. The music industry sells music, the radio industry sells advertising. They are completely different industries. It is no longer 1995. The music industry needs to understand that radio is not their support act”.

Nonetheless, if ARIA and the artists are serious about increasing local content on radio, they need to play smart.

They firstly need to decide whether it’s quality or quantity of airplay that offers the most value to them. If it’s quantity, then they can keep pushing for an increase, and they will keep failing. If they are smart they will go for quality. And with that objective, they could launch their own flanking attack on CRA.

Here is what they could do: ARIA could announce that they accept the quotas as they currently stand with no increase: however advocate changing the parameters to 6am-10pm, thus removing the late night loophole.

Michael Chugg (left):

’for years radio has been pumping out Australian music late at night and it’s fucked, the Australian music industry is stronger than it’s been for years and it’s not fucking well because of radio’

Chugg’s point, whilst colourful, is valid. It is not uncommon for some stations reach their quota by blanketing the 10pm-midnight zone with Australian music. Removing any contribution to the overall quota from these hours ensures that Australian content is aired during the prime listening hours. It achieves ‘quality’ airplay.

This would be smart strategy.

Smart because it effectively flanks CRA and changes the battleground again. It advocates a change that CRA cannot argue against without sounding hypocritical: for if they accept no increase to the quotas, but argue against the removal of 10pm-midnight from calculations, they are conceding that these hours are used to artificially reach Australian content. CRA is already on tenuous ground in the court of public opinion due to the ‘headlines’ advocating the abolition of quotas.

To be blunt, supporting Australian music is not the first, or most important, responsibility of commercial radio: rather it is to deliver ratings and revenue. The businesses need to be profitable and have every right to be run in the way the licensee, the board and the group executives see fit. Further, there is a disproportionate amount of overseas releases coming through the funnel of record companies into the Australian market, so that can make it difficult to cut through.

However radio does have a responsibility to support Australian music where it suits the format, and where the quality is good enough. Just as long as it isn’t with a couple of plays a week just before midnight.

Dan Bradley is Executive Director of Kaizen Media; an international media, management and marketing company.

You can contact Dan here.

 

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