Saturday, March 03, 2007

Is This The End Of Internet Radio? Not For Terrestial Radio, But Perhaps For Others.

Daniel McSwain reports that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) has announced its decision on Internet radio royalty rates, rejecting all of the arguments made by Webcasters and instead adopting the "per play" rate proposal put forth by SoundExchange(a digital music fee collection body created by the RIAA).

The rates that the Board has decided on, effective retroactively through the beginning of 2006 are as follows:

2006 - $.0008 per play
2007 - $.0011 per play
2008 - $.0014 per play
2009 - $.0018 per play
2010 - $.0019 per play

The minimum fee is $500 per channel per year. There is no clear definition of what a 'channel' is for services that make up individualized playlists for listeners.

How does this affect medium-size webcasters?
Radio Paradise's Bill Goldsmith notes, "This royalty structure would wipe out an entire class of business: Small independent webcasters such as myself & my wife, who operate Radio Paradise. Our obligation under this rate structure would be equal to over 125% of our total income. There is no practical way for us to increase our income so dramatically as to render that affordable." And Radio Paradise is perhaps the most-successful webcaster in its class! For most operators, this rate looks as if it would be >150-200% of total revenues.

How does this affect small webcasters?
Webcasters who stream through services like Live365 may be in jeopardy, as such firms' business models probably never envisioned a royalty rate this high. (Live365's royalty obligation for 2006 is running in the range of $350,000 per month, and that's not even addressing the question of the $500 per station mininum!)

How does this affect terrestrial broadcasters who stream?
The principles are the exactly same, but at the individual radio station level, the dollar amounts are of course are smaller. Clear Channel's total corporate obligation for November 2006 based on comScore Arbitron ratings and assuming 13 songs per hour, would be about $500,000... but if that's for streaming, let's say, 500 stations, it would only be a royalty obligation of about $1,000 per station per month in 2006. Are those stations selling enough online spots and website banners and sponsorships to make that affordable? I'm not sure. (The decision has no impact on news and talk stations who stream.)

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