Thursday, March 29, 2007

Today's RCB/PBA-AETC Meeting

A meeting was held today between the Georgia Tech Radio Communications Board (RCB) and representatives ofthe Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative (AETC), which is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1994 to manage Public Broadcasting Atlanta, WABE 90.1FM, and WPBA TV30.

WREK alum Adam Preble (GM 2000-01) attended the meeting and provided the following summary:
They [AETC] stressed that they're "really here to listen and learn," and that they "don't want any of WREK's airspace for [their] programming." They are basically offering their services in a partnership to assist with underwriting and programming "should we decide one is necessary," and they see their larger role as helping to preserve unique programming like WREK's. When asked what they were interested in getting from WREK, their response seemed fairly altruistic; they see threats on the horizon for public broadcasting and say they want to help.

While they don't seem to have any interest in WREK's air time (they say they're very happy with WABE's 3 HD radio channels), I think it's important to note that their help doesn't come without a cost. For example, if we had them help with fundraising or underwriting, some form of profit sharing would be part of the arrangement.

Monday, March 26, 2007

RCB to meet with Public Broadcasting Atlanta

To continue its review of WREK, the Georgia Tech Radio Communications Board (RCB) will meet with representatives of Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) on Thursday, March 29 to discuss PBA's proposal for a "partnership" with WREK. PBA operates WABE-FM, the Atlanta NPR affiliate.

According to news reports last fall, PBA's initial proposal was to "lease" WREK's main signal 14 hours a day, from 5AM-7PM for NPR and other programming.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Internet Streaming is not Free

A key part of each of the three proposals to change WREK's operation is that student broadcasts would continue using an HD radio subchannel and Internet streaming. For example, in his Dec. 1, 2006 letter to The Technique, Tech Associate VP of Institute Communications and Public Affairs James Fetig writes:
"...there always will be a student-controlled WREK signal in an independent HD format and on the Internet."
However, Internet streaming is not free, and in fact is becoming dramatically more expensive. This is because streaming requires the payment of performance royalties, which were established for digital transmission by the Digital Millineum Copyright Act in 1998. Stations pay these royalties to an organization called SoundExchange, which in turn disburses the proceeds to music performers and copyright holders. Note that these royalties are in addition to the traditional royalties that radio stations pay to music publishers such as ASCAP and BMI.

Performance royalty rates are set by the US Copyright Revew Board (CRB). Last Friday the CRB announced new (and significantly higher) royalty rates for internet streaming. According to this report, the new royalty rates will allow noncommerical webcasters to stream audio for a flat fee of $500 per year providing that listenership does not exceed 159,140 Aggregate Tuning Hours (ATH) per month (the amount of time all users listen to streaming audio in one month's time). Above this limit, noncommercial licensees will be expected to pay the full commercial cost, which for 2007 will be $.0011 per "performance" (i.e., per listener per song). This is a significant increase from previous rates. Even worse, the CRB increased the rates over the following years so that by 2010 the cost will be $.0019 per performance.

The limit of 159,140 ATH corresponds to an average of 216 listeners per hour. Given the choice of using Internet streaming or purchasing a $200+ HD radio receivers, most students are likely to choose Internet streaming to listen to WREK. The increased use of streaming by Tech's 17,000 students could surpass the limit, causing the higher per-performance rate to kick in and resulting in high royalty obligations.

For example, consider a scenario where the ATH limit is exceeded by 100 listeners per hour. Assuming WREK broadcasts 10 songs in an hour, the added royalties would be 100 X 10 X $.0011 = $1.10/hour. Over a year this adds up to a cost of $9,636. By the time 2010 rolls around, this amount would climb to $16,644 - a significant percentage of WREK's current operating budget. The more successful WREK is at attracting listeners, the higher the cost. This could make the cost of Internet streaming prohibitive.

Update: the text of the offical CRB decision can be found here.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

More Details about the RCB Review

Here are some more details about the WREK Review Process that is being conducted by the Georgia Tech Radio Communications Board (RCB):
  • A meeting with Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) is being planned sometime in March. This will complete the RCB's hearings to consider the "three proposals".
  • The WREK staff is in the process of preparing a Strategic Plan that will present their vision of WREK's future. This plan will be considered by the RCB as part of its deliberations.
  • A survey of Georgia Tech students is being prepared and distributed by the Georgia Tech office of Institute Communications and Public Affiars (IPCA). The results of this survey will be reviewed by the RCB as part of its deliberations.
  • A "Town Hall Meeting" at Georgia Tech is being planned to to facilitate a public discussion about the future of WREK.
The board will make its recommendations after these steps have been completed.