SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. – Feb. 29, 2016 — Krypton Radio at the Crossroads
As independent radio stations go, Krypton Radio is more independent than most. Broadcasting on the internet instead of over conventional terrestrial airwaves, the station serves a worldwide community of sci-fi geeks and fans that could never served otherwise. The internet is full of stations like this, serving very select and wildly disparate tastes in music and entertainment.
Or it was.
A dizzying rate hike in music licensing took place on January 1, forcing thousands of stations off the virtual airwaves. When the internet radio portal Live365 went offline on February 1, it took 5,000 stations with it in one gulp. Here’s the condensed version of what happened.
Terrestrial radio pays songwriters’ royalties for everything they play. For some reason, internet radio stations aren’t considered “real radio stations” by the Library of Congress, but “streaming audio” instead. That opened the door for them to be charged a per-performance fee that terrestrial radio stations don’t pay.
This extra tacked-on performance royalty just took a nasty, breathtaking jump upwards on January 1. The net result was that as of February 1, about seven thousand internet stations who could afford to be on the air last year, went silent forever.
Special interest radio stations are the most valuable out of what it being lost, because they offer music and opportunities for new artists that standard commercial radio simply does not offer. Diversity of commercial radio has been being substantially curtailed as it is as giant companies snap up smaller stations and force them all to play the same stuff regardless of region. These same smaller internet radio stations are also the ones who have the hardest time paying the already exhorbitant license fees.
Smaller internet stations – those making less than $1.5 million per year – were protected from the exorbitant fees paid by industry giants such as Spotify and Pandora by something called the Webmaster Settlement Act of 2009 (WSA) . It provided a percentage of revenue calculation for determining royalty rates paid to record labels. As of January 1, 2016, that protection expired. Small broadcasters now face increases of 10-14 times what they had been paying.
Krypton Radio is one of only two remaining sci-fi, geek culture format stations in the U.S. That puts them on the endangered species list as radio stations go. Still, the boutique station is one of the luckier ones, in that it’s actually making a small profit. Their team, working mostly as volunteers, have been working for years to achieve their now world-wide audience. Between its Patreon campaign and its advertisers, the plucky sci-fi station stands a fair chance of figuring out how to survive the massive rate hike.
However, gone are countless hobbyist, regional interest and speciality stations. Some estimates put the number of internet radio stations in the United States in 2015 at something around 15 to 17 thousand. That number is now closer to 8 to 11 thousand. There had been hope that the ruling by the CRB would eventually contain a reaffirmation of the protections afforded small stations, but alas, the new ruling contains no language that even approaches this.
The job of the CRB is to set rates for commercial broadcasting, but internet radio is, for them, almost an afterthought. Public radio and college radio were two groups that have negotiated special rates in the past, and did so again this time in the so-called Web IV process which resulted in this year’s new rate. Unfortunately, being able to participation in the conversation on royalties is expensive and largely defined by bureaucratic paper shuffling. Lacking an organized advocacy group, small webcasters had no particular voice in the proceedings. The only voices that were heard were those of the giants, Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. The biggest blow to the proceedings, however, had already come from Pandora.
In 2013, Pandora decided that its proposal, the Internet Radio Fairness Act, popular with internet radio broadcasters but vehemently opposed by the music licensing agencies, was a battle it no longer wanted to fight. Without Pandora pushing for the rights of all internet broadcasters great and small, internet radio had had lost its champion. The result was the new deal, which panders to the giants in the industry but all but outlaws small independent internet radio. For example, Rich Bressler, CFO of iHeartRadio seems very pleased with the outcome:
As you all know, in December the copyright royalty board, or CRB, came out with new rates that digital music services like iHeart will pay for the next five years, reducing our per-play rate by 32%. These new CRB rates make our investments in iHeartRadio even more significant. We believe these new rates will encourage the growth of digital streaming and help build a more sustainable digital music marketplace for the benefit of artists, consumers and the rest of the music industry.
Bressler is trying to chum the waters to attract new investors for the beleagured iHeartMedia, who is currently saddled with $20 billion in debt. He also omitted the fact that the rates were reduced for his music-on-demand service, but that regular streaming radio’s fees went up 17% in a single jump. The new rates will only encourage the growth of the establish giants, but have already destroyed thousands of stations across the United States.
Is it all over for webcasters like Krypton Radio? It might not be. The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 was created two years after the CRB’s initial ruling in 2007. In theory, SoundExchange could correct the disastrous ruling that has killed thousands of radio stations so far.
There are two petitions currently collecting electronic signatures. One is posted by David Goldberg, an attorney representing the StreamLicensing platform which aggregates Internet radio stations, expressed a positive outlook when he spoke with Radio & Internet News:
“I do think labels, SoundExchange, everyone, sees the value in small webcasting,” he said. “The landscape has changed since 2009, when the small webcaster settlement was passed. But there are reasons why everybody will want to at least talk about something.”
In the meantime, Krypton Radio faces an uncertain future, along with thousands more of the remaining small webcasters still streaming.
“The road ahead may be rocky, but we’re not giving up,” said Krypton Radio’s founder and station manager Gene Turnbow. “We’re here to bring artists and the people who want to hear them together. At this point we’ve become sort of the poster child for diversity in internet radio, so we matter now more than ever.”
Krypton Radio’s mission of bringing sci-fi radio to the world continues despite the damage already done to the American independent internet radio business community. Will there be congressional action, saving the industry? If you want to do your part, visit radiodiversity.org and join the online community trying to save internet radio from oblivion. You may also wish to sign the petition to save U.S. independent internet radio.
About Krypton Radio
Based in Sherman Oaks, California, Krypton Radio was founded in 2009 by movie industry veterans Gene Turnbow & Susan Fox. Since then the internet-only station has grown from a small fan project into a full service radio station heard in 195 countries around the world. Krypton Radio has marched to (and played) a different beat, one defined by the fans themselves.
Krypton Radio is wholly owned by Krypton Media Group, Inc., a California corporation.
About Gene Turnbow
Animator, musician, writer, programmer and illustrator, Gene has done everything from game design to industrial robotics, from makeup FX and model making to restoration of national treasures of cinema for the New York Museum of Modern Art. With over 20 years in the motion picture and gaming industries, Gene is now working with his dedicated team to make Krypton Radio the Next Big Thing.
Gene Turnbow / President Krypton Media Group
This article may be freely reprinted without permission, including the use of the photograph, but please make sure all the links work when you rewrite or repost this article. – Ed.