How the Australian music industry is fighting for radio quotas

Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Celine Dion, Arcade Fire…these names were bandied about last week at the Senate committee inquiry into Australian content for broadcasting and streaming services. Reason: since the ‘70s, Canadian radio has had to playlist 35% local content, and the government has followed up with heavy investment in the music industry. Result:  Canada has been steadily churning out major global names for decades.

The Australian music industry has long been pushing for a similar quota. But the reality is that it’s no longer possible. When Australia signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, part of the deal was that all current protective quotas from all industries cannot be increased. Nevertheless, commercial radio has been doing its darndest to get rid of these pesky quotas. One argument is that genres including jazz, classical, and easy listening rock haven’t got enough decently produced Australian music to play.

At the senate inquiry, ARIA and APRA AMCOS described any moves to drop quotas as “detrimental” (given that commercial radio has 10.5 million listeners a week) as more Aussies were finding a foothold on the global stage. APRA AMCOS chief executive Dean Ormston said, “Given the talent we see, [quotas] should be easily achieved.” ARIA’s general manager Lynne Small pointed out to the inquiry that community radio well exceeds its 25% obligations, triple j hits its self-imposed target of 40% and ABC Country achieves 57.4%.

The two associations independently made recommendations for the Federal government to adopt including:

* Introduce a new body made up of radio and music execs to ensure that quotas were maintained.

* Stop commercial radio from being able to self-categorise its formats.  Currently, a station can decide if it’s playing easy listening (with a 10% quota), gold (15%) or classic rock (20%).

* Hit all formats with 25%.

* Introduce quotas for digital radio stations.  Initially, they argued that quotas would inhibit the government’s intention that digital stations offer more niche content.  But the music industry argued that many digital stations like Hit 100 are quite mainstream.

* No quotas for streaming services, but benchmarking locally-curated playlists to expose Australian music.  They must employ more Australian playlist curators, and promote more Australian acts in their promotional material, both internally to users and externally via marketing channels.

In healthy conversations with streaming services, ARIA has put forward a condition that they will maintain a strong support of Australian music even if organisational policies change. APRA AMCOS wants their definition of “local” music to extend from just recording artists to songs written by Australian songwriters as well.