Back in October 25th, 2017, the FCC quietly voted to eliminate what has come to be called the Main Studio Rule. The rule requires local radio stations to have at least one home office in the area that it is serving. The rule is ostensibly put in place to protect “localism,” to assure that local content is produced. The rule was put in place back in 1940, under the FDR regime (so, no surprise a rule so controlling of content was put in place back then).
The proposal to end the rule was introduced in May unanimously, but the final rule was only 3-2. This decision has not much been talked about as most of the talk around the FCC has focused on net neutrality. I wanted to bring this back up because the ramifications of the end of this rule are just about to hit, and, from where I’m sitting, the ramifications are good for the free flow of information.
The idea that local markets would not be capable of producing local content should large media entities choose to simply provide regional and/or national content seems, on its face, to contradict the basic principles of the free market. The free market provides what people want, and, having been involved in local media production for years myself, I can assure that the content that gets the most attention in local media markets is local media. A large media provider attempting to serve a local media market by not actually providing local media focus does so at their own peril.
I believe this rule will usher in a new, exciting revolution in the media industry. As a member of that industry, I can’t wait. Here’s more details on the vote and on some of the voices responding to that vote.
The Federal Communications Commission eliminated the 80-year old broadcast main studio rule. Chairman Pai, Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr voted in favor. Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel voted no. The Order retains the requirement that stations maintain a local or toll-free telephone.
In voting in favor of the rule change, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai the overwhelming majority of public input favored our proposal. “The record shows that main studios are no longer needed to enable broadcasters to be responsive to their communities of license. That’s because the public these days is much more likely to interact with stations (including accessing stations’ public files) online. Additionally, technology allows broadcast stations to produce local news even without a nearby studio. The record also shows that getting rid of the rule will help broadcasters serve viewers and listeners, especially those in small towns and rural areas where the cost of compliance dissuades broadcasters from even launching stations.”
In voting against, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called it a solemn day in the history of television and radio broadcasting. “By eliminating the main studio rule in its entirety for all broadcast stations — regardless of size or location – the FCC signals that it no longer believes, those awarded a license to use the public airwaves, should have a local presence in their community. Yes, the very same majority, that talks about embracing policies to promote job creation, is paving the way for broadcast station groups, large and small, to terminate studio staff and abandon the communities they are obligated to serve.”
The NAB cheered the move. NAB Executive Vice Presidentof Communications Dennis Wharton said, “NAB supports elimination of the main studio rule, which has outlived its usefulness in an era of mobile news gathering and multiple content delivery platforms. We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities. We applaud the FCC for continuing to remove unnecessary and outdated broadcast regulations.”
The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council also cheered the move. Kim Keenan, President and CEO of MMTC, made the following statement: “The Main Studio Rule is a textbook example of a market entry barrier whose deregulation serves the public interest. In practice the Rule drove capital away from multicultural broadcasters who were unable to operate as efficiently as other broadcasters who could house more stations in a single main studio. The Commission has done the right thing by targeting this obsolete rule for repeal.”
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