Spotify’s “sponsored content”: payola by any other name…

by Amber Healy

SpotifyIt’s too soon to know whether the new “sponsored content” policy helps artists or harms them.

Payola is the practice—the illegal practice—of a record label paying a broadcaster to play a song or artist at a higher rate than other artists.

There was a massive scandal decades ago in which radio stations were found to accept bribes to favor this artist or that one. It brought down some of the biggest names in the then-fledgling industry, including Alan Freed, the man credited with coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” and Dick Clark.

But times have changed. Things are different. And there’s no law governing the use of cold hard cash to encourage streaming platforms to promote artists for the right price. It also indicates a change in practice for Spotify, which called for a halt to payola-type practices back in 2015. At that time, the Swedish company announced it would “explicitly prohibit” users from taking cash to include songs on its curated playlists, the Financial Times reported.

Tech Crunch first noted this week that there was a new opt-out feature on Spotify, titled “Sponsored Content.”

Continue reading

MSNBC and Heartland Institute: two great tastes that go great together?

If you’re MSNBC, who do you get to provide the anti-FCC net neutrality position for fairness and balance?

As usual, while there’s a kerfuffle over major issues I’m down here in the weeds wondering at peculiarities. For instance, with net neutrality being a significant chunk of the current 24/7 news cycle fodder thanks to the FCC’s recent decision, I could focus on the pros and cons of net neutrality, so-called or otherwise, but I’m honestly a bit torn. For the moment, I’m content to wait and see what the wonks have to say about the full 300+ pages of the FCC measure when it’s eventually released. There’s cause for caution when advocates for net neutrality are holding their noses over this latest development. Continue reading

Internet & Telecom

Net neutrality? It’s not complicated, AT&T

AT&T’s new toll-free data plan is a great idea. For AT&T. Everyone else, not so much.

It’s been a bit since I’ve written about net neutrality (really, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything), but it seemed right to bring the topic up again with regards to AT&T’s new toll-free data proposal:

“AT&T Inc., the country’s second-largest wireless carrier, announced Monday that it’s setting up a “1-800” service for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll-free for AT&T’s wireless customers, meaning the traffic won’t count against a surfer’s monthly allotment of data.

It’s the first major cellphone company to create a comprehensive service for sponsored wireless access in the U.S. The move is likely to face considerable opposition from public-interest groups that fear the service could discourage consumers from exploring new sites that can’t afford to pay communications carriers for traffic.” Continue reading

Limbaugh brays on: louder, emptier, closer to the end

By Robert Becker

The smoldering ruin of Rush Limbaugh dramatizes one political truism: seemingly impregnable fortresses are most vulnerable to suicidal implosions. Despite decades of volcanic vitriol, no outside force had yet penetrated Rush’s propaganda bubble chamber, full of pretend entertainment. No doubt, the fall of the Dittohead Dynasty reflects both the gratuity of Limbaugh’s latest abuse and the wholesomeness of the victim. For the record, Sandra Fluke’s noble decency stared down a serial miscreant. After all, other fringe charlatans haven’t suddenly lost 140 sponsors, nor did some new-found Democratic charge deter Rush’s grotesque buffoonery.

Though the bully pulpit resides in the White House, shifty, snarling bullies still sneer their way to fame and fortune. Continue reading

FCC: Move to digital hasn't improved local news reporting

From the “The Feds Are The Last To Know Department”:

The Federal Communications Commission released a study today reporting that an “explosion of online news sources in recent years has not produced a corresponding increase in reporting, particularly quality local reporting …” The study, titled “Information Needs of Communities” takes a broad but somewhat shallow look at the media landscape. It reads as more of a history of how modern media arrived at its current state than as a clear, practical recipe for change.

The study — which looks at the local reporting performance of all media, not just that of newspapers — was undertaken by senior FCC adviser Steven Waldman, a former journalist for Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. According to his study:

In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting. The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level.

Well, duh. Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #113: Seth's Near-Death

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Who said it? Continue reading

Obama U-turn on net neutrality? Let's hope so…

A few days ago FCC Chair Julius Genachowski suggested that the administration was seriously considering abandoning the president’s uncompromising pledge to enforce net neutrality. Some suggested at the time that the comments had the vague odor of trial balloon about them. If so, the president found out, quickly and unequivocally, what folks thought. Some reasoned, some entreated, while others of us nard-stomped for all we were worth.

If, in fact, Obama was using Genachowski to test the waters, the conclusion had to be that it’s full of alligators. So today, it looks like the administration might complete the 360:

FCC to Overhaul Regulation of Internet Lines Continue reading

Nota Bene #100: Il Planetario di Figaro

Wow, 100 issues of Nota Bene! Props to Russ for helping me for a while with this nifty little S&R feature. Never mind all that now, let’s get on with this issue. “What splendid buildings our architects would be able to execute if only they could finally be less obedient to gravity!” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #94: Bear Vs. Ninja

“Overture, curtain, lights Continue reading

An open letter to America’s progressive billionaires

Dear Mr. Buffet, Mr. Gates, Mr. Turner, Mr. Soros, Ms. Winfrey, and any other hyper-rich types with progressive political leanings:

If this essay has, against all odds, somehow made its way to your desk, please, bear with me. It’s longish, but it winds eventually toward an exceedingly important conclusion. If you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll do my best to reward your patience.
_______________

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama won a landmark political victory on a couple of prominent themes: “hope” and “change.” He has since been afforded ample opportunity to talk about these ideas, having inherited the nastiest economic quagmire in living memory and a Republican minority in Congress that has interpreted November’s results as a mandate to obstruct the public interest even more rabidly than it was doing before. Reactions among those of us who supported Obama have been predictably mixed, but even those who have been critical of his efforts to date are generally united in their hope that his win signaled the end of “movement conservatism” in the US. Continue reading

TunesDay: Are The Killers the greatest band in the world? We find out today…

A lot of bands have released pretty good debut records, only to follow them up with less-than-spectacular careers. The rule used to be (before the FCC, the recording industry and the radio industry conspired to destroy all music) that you learned what you needed to know about a band with its third album. Given how things worked, you often saw a pattern that looked something like this:

  • Debut: Band (or solo artist) has been on the road for awhile, writing and building an audience and developing as a creative and performing force. Continue reading

RIAA, meet RICO

Finally, FINALLY we’re starting to treat the RIAA like an organized crime syndicate. Check the latest on a RICO class-action in Missouri, via Slashdot:

“In Atlantic Recording v. Raleigh, an RIAA case pending in St. Louis, Missouri, the defendant has asserted detailed counterclaims against the RIAA for federal RICO violations, fraud, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, prima facie tort, trespass, and conspiracy. The claims focus on the RIAA’s ‘driftnet’ tactic of suing innocent people, and of demanding extortionate settlements. The RICO ‘predicate acts’ alleged in the 42-page pleading (PDF) are extortion, mail fraud, and wire fraud.

This is a wonderful approach. Continue reading

ElecTunesDay: ending the War on Music

Trusting is one thing I don’t know
When it comes to the campaigning men
But I’ll meet you at the election
When I vote for the hope of this land
Sean Kelly

You may have noticed, if you’ve been paying attention, that the music industry has gone to hell of late. It isn’t that nobody is making good music anymore – on the contrary, there are legions of fantastic bands and artists out there. It’s just that the best ones rarely get played on the radio; the recording industry cranks out nothing but imitation, prefabricated product – the musical equivalent of Cheez-Whiz (Now With Zero Intellectual Calories!); the RIAA – the body that’s allegedly working on behalf of artists – never misses a chance to kneecap young, developing musicians; and if an artist is making a living, it’s probably at a day job and not with his or her music. Continue reading

Pop quiz: Did you know that you may lose your television service in less than ten months?

static-tv.jpg By Martin Bosworth

Is the answer to the above question “No?”

Well, that’s part of the problem–millions of Americans are in the same boat, and they are equally unaware of the situation

The basic gist is this: On February 17, 2009, “over-the-air” (OTA) broadcast television stations that use analog signals (which you pick up through the familiar “rabbit-ear” antennae) are switching to digital signals, which means that unless you have a strong enough antenna set and a special set-top converter box, your television will not be able to pick up the new signals. The government’s official DTV site gives a concise description of the whole event.

Continue reading

Comcast blocks public from FCC hearing

By Martin Bosworth

If you haven’t already heard about it, Comcast doesn’t just block subscribers from using BitTorrent, it also blocks the public from even complaining about it in public:

Comcast’s spokespersons admitted it paid people to do the same for a hearing on the company’s actions regarding its interference with peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as BitTorrent. The placeholders not only held spots in line, but also crowded into the hearing itself, preventing more than 100 attendees — many of whom had come to speak against Comcast — from getting inside. Continue reading

Comcast to customers: We control the horizontal, the vertical, and your Internets…but we can't admit it

By Martin Bosworth

The Save The Internet coalition alerted me to Comcast’s quietly rolling out new terms of service that codify what has been common knowledge for some time–that the company does, indeed, interfere with traffic on its network, and reserves the right to do so, any time it wishes.

Of course, the company hasn’t actually come out and said it so plainly, any more than they’ll admit they cancel customer accounts for hitting undisclosed bandwith caps. Instead, as Mike Masnick notes, they’re using “weasel language” that implies their intent without being so precise as to be caught. Continue reading

Internet freedom means net neutrality, not "pay-as-you-go" broadband

By Martin Bosworth

Last week the news broke (via a leaked memo found by Broadband Reports) that Time Warner Cable was instituting a “tiered pricing” structure for broadband, where heavy bandwith users would have to pay more, rather than the customary “all you can eat” model of supposedly unlimited usage for a flat price. My article covers the issue in more detail, but the gist is that while tiered pricing structures are better than being kicked off your service for violating invisible bandwith caps, it’s still no substitute for building out new networks with more capacity.

This leads me to the excellent paper authored by Sascha Meinrath on how the concept of net neutrality needs to be incorporated and expanded into a larger vision of Internet freedom. Continue reading

FCC investigates Comcast…and Congress investigates the FCC

By Martin Bosworth

It’s one of those moments of fearful symmetry only a tiger could love. Barely a day after FCC chair Kevin Martin announced that his agency would be investigating Comcast for blocking access to BitTorrent, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced that they are launching an investigation into the FCC for some of the shady business that’s been transpiring under Martin’s aegis. (Formal letter here.) Continue reading