There is never a shortage of challenges and opportunities for broadcast lobbyists in Washington and 2019 was no different. The National Association of Broadcasters said it was actively swaying regulators and lawmakers on at least 50 separate issues last year. On Capitol Hill that included bills about pirate radio, the Emergency Alert System, the Fairness Doctrine, pharmaceutical advertising, daylight savings time, and campaign advertising, among others. Meanwhile at the Federal Communications Commission, the NAB was lobbying on issues tied to broadcast ownership, EAS, and broadcasters’ future access to the C-band.
Despite the dozens of issues keeping radio’s Washington lobbying force in motion, the NAB continued to scale back how much it spent on lobbying for the fifth consecutive year. An Inside Radio review of federal disclosure filings shows the NAB spent $12.71 million on lobbying efforts last year. That represents a 10% decline compared to what the NAB allocated to lobbying in 2018. And it was an 18% drop compared to the NAB’s outlay in 2017. The last time the NAB pumped more dollars into its lobbying budget was in 2014, when $18.44 million was spent.
“Our advocacy expenses can vary by year, depending on various regulatory and legislative threats facing local radio and television,” NAB spokesperson Dennis Wharton told Inside Radio. “We constantly review these expenses to ensure we have the necessary resources to win in Washington while delivering the greatest value to our NAB members.”
The first three months of last year brought the biggest amount of spending as the NAB welcomed a new Congress to Washington, including scores of new House members when control of that chamber shifted over to Democrats. But by year-end spending was about a third less. Filings show the NAB shelled out $2.84 million on lobbying during the fourth quarter, including fighting the new Ask Musicians For Music Act, or AMFM Act, which was introduced in November. If passed, the bill would lead to stations paying performance royalties for on-air music use.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with the NAB are other broadcast lobbyists, including several hired by individual companies. No radio group invested more than iHeartMedia, which spent $4.03 million in 2019 according to federal disclosure filings. The documents show iHeart’s Washington team worked on many of the same issues as the NAB, such as encouraging lawmakers to support the bill signed into law last month raising pirate radio fines to up to $2 million, music royalties, and the FCC's proceeding on the revitalization of AM radio.
Among other broadcasters, the list of lobbying spenders included Univision ($1.12 million), Hubbard Broadcasting ($150,000), Urban One ($80,000), Spanish Broadcasting System ($60,000), and Salem Media Group ($40,000). Meantime the National Religious Broadcasters spent slightly more than $22,000. Cox Media Group’s parent company, Cox Enterprises, also spent a total of $3.5 million although most of its focus was on television and broadband issues, not radio.
The NRB traditionally puts much of its lobbying efforts into free speech and religious freedom issues and that was again the case in 2019. It also used its sway to fight performance royalty efforts.
It’s not just commercial radio that’s busy lobbying in Washington. So too is National Public Radio. Disclosure filings indicate NPR spent $669,000 last year on those efforts. That was a 23% drop in spending compared to the prior year. NPR uses its lobbying to sell policymakers on public radio’s viewpoints – many of which overlap with commercial operators, such as music licensing, reallocation of the C-band, and building support for continued federal funding of public media.
The streaming radio and music services have also continued to make their voices heard. Federal disclosure filings show Spotify spent $960,000 advocating on behalf of streaming music services. That’s the same as it spent in 2018.
Pandora spent $450,000 doing the same during the first half of the year but that came to an end after it was acquired by SiriusXM. As for satellite radio, it ramped its lobbying spending last year, allocating $360,000. That was up 63% compared to the prior year. SiriusXM’s biggest focus was music licensing issues.
Music Industry Also Spends Big
With the Dept. of Justice continuing to review whether to terminate the consent decrees that govern how radio licenses music, filings show the big performance rights organizations were again active in Washington last year. ASCAP invested $440,000, BMI spent $380,000, SESAC expended $120,000 and Global Music Rights paid $80,000. The PROs would like to see the DOJ make revisions to or outright terminate the consent decrees. The radio industry has agreed that some modernization may be needed, but it has joined forces with other music users like retailers, restaurants and bars to argue that the agreements are still needed to ensure they have access to music.
But it remains radio’s performance royalty battle that continues to generate the most lobbying attention in Washington as music industry advocates push for changes to the law. Leading the list was the Recording Industry Association of America, which spent $4.9 million last year. But in the wake of the Music Modernization Act becoming law, that represented a 13% drop compared to what it spent in 2018.
The RIAA also had several record company allies working alongside it, some of which boosted their lobbying investment. That included recording conglomerates Universal Music Group, which spent $2.08 million, a third less than it spent the prior year, and Sony Music Entertainment, which spent $1.2 million, or 28% less than the prior year.
Several other music industry groups were also busy in Washington last year. The National Music Publishers Association spent $904,000 – just a fraction of the record $4.38 million the organization spent in 2018 as the Music Modernization Act was working its way through Congress. The Recording Academy —the organizer of the Grammy awards—spent $771,844, a small increase compared to a year earlier.