Will radio rights deal put an FM tuner in your iPhone?

Earlier this year, I wrote about those “Stop the Radio Performance Tax” ads running constantly on some local stations. Monday’s New York Times reports there may be a deal for the radio industry to pay $100 million to performers and record companies who hold the “performance copyright.”

The radio stations have argued that the only thing listeners will notice is less music, because playing it will get more expensive. Artists and their reps say it’s only fair terrestrial radio lose a 38-year-old exemption, and more dough equals better music. (Broadcasters pay songwriting copyright holders, and online stations already pay performance fees.)

But for civilians, the deal’s biggest impact may be the provision least likely to survive: that Congress mandate future mobile phones include an FM tuner. While some phones already have this, the iPhone, for one, doesn’t.

Yes, most terrestrial stations have apps that stream music to your phone, but if your phone becomes a tuner it “could help broadcasters compete with online streaming services like Pandora, which are popular on mobile devices,” the Times notes.

I wonder how much upside there really is here. I don’t think Pandora listeners will switch just because the phone starts picking up an over-the-air signal; Pandora wins on customizable variety, something a conventional station can’t do. But I guess if it’s easier to pull in a signal without an app, more folks might listen.

As you might imagine, the phone manufacturers aren’t happy about being pulled into this issue. They say phones will become bulkier and battery life will drop.

The radio industry has campaigned dishonestly on this issue, calling performance-rights fees a “tax” when no money goes to the government. Will Steve Jobs start scaring us with ads showing bulky ’80s phones? OK, probably not (especially since several sleek phones already have tuners), but Congress has to approve this deal, and if the Apples of the world are against it, that doesn’t help.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Jack Silverman on 08/23/2010 - 10:39 am.

    David,
    I have both an FM tuner and Sirius radio app on my smartphone. I absoultly love the Sirius radio app. $3.00 / month. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan and they have an E-Street channel. In the evening they play live concert recordings back to the 80’s and onward. It’s very interesting to hear the changes in Sprinsteen’s delivery on the same songs that span several decades.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Urbanek on 08/23/2010 - 11:28 am.

    @ Jack? Which phone?

  3. Submitted by Joe Williams on 08/23/2010 - 08:22 pm.

    What sort of backwards logic would require FM tuners on iPhones?

    Additionally “more dough equals better music” makes absolutely no sense at all. Even huge performers like Jay-z have looked at the indie rock model as one that has the potential to rejuvenate the music industry.

  4. Submitted by Jim Swanson on 08/24/2010 - 12:02 am.

    The NAB is populated with clowns from the ice age. The biggest reason against requiring FM radio in modern devices (hello, NAB, welcome to 2010) is content. Or the lack thereof.

    Most FM radio is music formats with tons of ads and people are not “programmed” to go to FM music stations for emergency information. That is useless in an emergency, even moreso when some of the DJs are pre-recorded and even non-local in some cases (plus, these blowhards probably wouldn’t know how to dispense any useful data because they never talk about anything more than a forecast, the latest pop culture gossip and how wonderful they think their station is). What little useful information on radio is on AM and even most AM stations have an over abundance of syndicated non-local content. As has been pointed out on some radio industry sites, on 9/11, many of the major FM and TV stations in NYC went silent because their transmitters and antennae were on the WTC towers. Some had no backup. Some just simulcasted TV stations (which may be better than nothing but why would anyone expect that from a jukebox?). So much for FM in an emergency.

    This is simply NAB’s latest ploy of protectionism. They need to go away and stop embarrassing what’s left of a once-proud but dying industry. Now.

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