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News March 22, 2018

Inside the new industry’s fact-finding mission on radio quotas: ‘What we’re doing is better than what was in place’

Lars Brandle
Inside the new industry’s fact-finding mission on radio quotas: ‘What we’re doing is better than what was in place’

For some years, music professionals have quietly grumbled about commercial radio’s failure to hit their content quotas. Those gripes got some serious volume at Bigsound last year. Behind closed doors, execs poured over data. Panels delved in. And Tina Arena used the platform of her keynote speech to demand change. Action was needed, pronto.

The industry got the first sign of change when, earlier this week, APRA AMCOS, ARIA and CRA announced the three parties would work together to determine if non-compliance was the problem many say it is. And if so, get to the bottom of it. TIO checked in with APRA AMCOS’ Head of Member Services and incoming CEO Dean Ormston for a closer look.

On the face of it, this collaborative effort isn’t exactly a breakthrough but it certainly feels like the start of a journey.

That’s a good way of putting it.

Is this an acknowledgement that the system for policing quotas is broken and needs to be fixed?

You could look at it that way. When we saw evidence that there was definitely a problem that needed to be addressed, that’s exactly what we said to commercial radio. We need to sit down and talk about this in a collaborative way. And it was the very reason we didn’t want to go public. There are quotas for a reason. And we need to be sure that everyone is complying with those quotas. We wanted to sit down with commercial radio and say, we’ve become aware of this scenario, it’s not ok, radio is incredibly important to songwriters and artists. And to commercial radio’s credit there was never a suggestion that we should not do anything or not look into it.

So what happens next?

We haven’t formulated a long-term plan. We’ve agreed over the next 12 months to all be looking at the same data and on a monthly basis review that data to see what compliance looks like. And if there’s non-compliance, let’s do something about it. That is, we need to talk to that station pretty quickly. That’s where we’ve got to now.

I don’t expect there is any issue around there not being enough Australian content to play. I would have thought there’s plenty of content and nobody has put forward that argument at this stage. Hopefully there’s nothing along those lines.

We’ve just made similar comments in the Greens-led senate inquiry into local content where we said radio is a really critical and important part of the ecosystem; it’s such a powerful voice in terms of how it related to its own community, whether you’re talking about a community broadcaster or commercial broadcaster, it speaks to a community in a way that streaming can’t, because of the scale of streaming.

For an artist to be picked up and profiled on commercial radio is hugely important to their career, whatever stage they’re at. If they’re touring it adds weight; people might go and buy tickets to the show.

It has a kick-on effect to other potential revenue streams. So for a whole variety of reasons, radio is still critically important to everyone in the music industry. And culturally, it’s really important. We don’t want to be sitting here not hearing our own voices and stories and artists. We should fight hard to ensure quotas are being met for all those reasons.

How often will you meet?

We’ll get together on a monthly basis. We’ve yet to look at our first month’s worth of data. What we’ve looked at until now has been data sourced from third parties to paint the picture and say to radio, ‘look there is a problem.’ We’re just finalising at the moment the data supply.

So you haven’t had your first meeting to review data?

We haven’t. The meetings to date have been, Ok, is there a problem Houston? And what are we going to do about it? It’s not about being adversarial. We are really collaborators in a similar industry. They need our product and we need them. We work on it in that sort of way.

According to the joint statement issued Tuesday, CRA says there is no problem.

Yes. I don’t want to verbal commercial radio but my understanding is commercial radio’s feeling is that stations are generally compliant and that there isn’t a broad based issue. The expectation from their point of view is that the data will reflect that. And if that’s the case, great. Job well done. And we’ll just keep looking at it on a month-by-month basis and make sure that’s the case.

If it’s not the case, if we find that one, two or ten stations that are non-compliant, then we would talk to the stations direct. When I say we, commercial radio has the direct relationship, we don’t step back from the fact the commercial radio code as it’s structured provides us the opportunity to talk direct to stations if we want to as well. The value of a collaborative relationship with commercial radio is that collectively, we go to any station that’s not compliant and be calling them on it and expecting a fix.

The Australian Music Performance Committee (AMPCOM) didn’t achieve results. Might we see something tangible established to replace it?

(AMPCOM) didn’t work, you can’t dress it up as anything else. It needs new thinking in terms of how to approach this.

What we will learn over the next 12 months is what’s the right way to keep an ongoing review process. Whether that becomes a quarterly process or whatever that might be, we work out what is the best collaborative way for the music industry and commercial radio to ensure that quotas are met.

The code as it stands provides recourse to ACMA ultimately, so I don’t think we need anything that’s too heavy in a policing sense. If we’re working collaboratively it’s only if the wheels completely fall off and a station refuses to fix an issue that you would be referring to ACMA. Hopefully this collaborative approach will prove to be the model. Already what we’re doing is better than what was in place.

Of course, you’re about to become CEO of APRA and AMCOS. You’re spearheading this and you’ve clearly got a lot on your plate. How’s the transition period coming along?

It’s great. I’m very lucky to have worked with Brett Cottle for a long time. It’s a very generous handover in that we’ve been doing it for some months now.

Certainly the pace is starting to pick up. I’m very humbled and fortunate to be heading into the role. I love the company and what we do. I’ve just come back from overseas doing membership roadshows in L.A., London and Nashville. It’s just amazing to see how many of our writer members are doing huge things on the other side of the world.

We’re in Canberra next week for a Parliamentary Friends of Australian Music gig. We’ve got meetings for three days with MPs and we’ll be telling them very loudly about how the contemporary music industry is something they should be very proud of and that they should invest in.

If the government wants to talk about innovative industries that employ people and contribute to GDP, then we punch well above our weight.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

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