The National Association of Broadcasters is giving qualified support to the idea of allowing U.S. FM radio stations to “geo-target” programming using boosters.
It commented to the FCC about a proposal by GeoBroadcast Solutions, which wants the commission to allow FM booster stations to originate programming on a limited basis.
On the plus side, NAB said, “Enabling radio broadcasters to use boosters to location target announcements and other programming would benefit listeners with more relevant, tailored content, including emergency news and announcements. Geo-targeting could also open important new revenue streams for FM broadcasters in the markets for targeted advertising and smaller, local commercial advertisers.”
NAB said zoned broadcasting may facilitate radio advertising by businesses that were previously priced out of advertising on radio or “found that buying spots that cover an entire radio market was not financially sensible.”
But the association also told the FCC that the GBS proposal “is not entirely free of potential concerns.”
It expressed a worry about potential interference that, even if confined to a station’s booster cluster, could cause listeners to change channels or reflect poorly on the FM service. GBS has said its field tests showed no “harmful interference” and that the technology can be managed to minimize disruption.
NAB continued, “We also observe potential concerns that GBS’ system currently works only with analog FM service, which could undermine the continued expansion of digital audio broadcasting (DAB, also called HD Radio). There may be potential disruption to DAB in the targeted zones. This issue is not addressed in the petition.”
NAB noted that GBS is working on implementing its system to be compatible with HD Radio and that GBS says it supports digital radio. “NAB strongly encourages GBS to continue pursuit of a remedy for this issue.” But it said that the existing policy permitting digital translator and booster stations “not be extended to include location targeted programming until there is sufficient experience to demonstrate, at a minimum, that harmful interference to other DAB stations is unlikely to occur.”
On balance, though, NAB said the FCC should go ahead with a rulemaking proceeding “to fully vet the technical issues” and provide input on costs and benefits of geo-targeting generally, and GBS’ specific proposal.
“If GBS’ request for a rule change is approved, NAB has no doubt that broadcasters will carefully weigh all the relevant factors in deciding whether to implement zoned broadcasting, and that market forces will ultimately determine the success of geo-targeting and GBS’ approach.”