FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly is now directly sending his payola questions to the major labels.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is doubling down on its payola probe.
In September of 2019, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly sent a letter to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the big three major labels, requesting additional information about payola — i.e., illegal payments for radio plays.
O’Rielly was decidedly unimpressed with the tepid response he received from the RIAA, which claimed that its represented labels hadn’t engaged in illegal or below-board conduct, and that individual inquiries should be forwarded to the labels themselves. The Commissioner’s Twitter response included a copy of the letter sent back by RIAA and indicated that he would in fact “seek out answers directly from record labels.”
Of course, the RIAA is funded by the majors to deal with situations exactly like this one — and diplomatically diffuse them — instead of sending one-page brush-offs.
And apparently, the FCC higher-up wasn’t bluffing.
On January 16th, O’Rielly sent multiple leading record companies a two-page letter describing what payola is, why the U.S. Government believes it harms competition, and why the inquiry was intensifying. Additionally, O’Rielly disclosed six multi-part questions and “respectfully” asked that answers be returned by the end of February.
The questions pertain to record companies’ agreements with radio stations, which practices the record companies believe constitute payola, how the record companies aim to prevent payola, known instances of payola, and more. Suffice it to say that the sensitive nature of the questions and the immense reach of the FCC will prompt the record labels to have their attorneys compose answers before the specified deadline.
And they can’t kick this one back to the RIAA.
It’s unclear at this point just how far the FCC and O’Rielly will proceed with the probe—that is, whether they intend to send a message (and possibly reduce the prevalence of payola) or dedicate ample time and resources to launching a full-scale investigation. What we do know, however, is that the matter isn’t being swept under the rug.
More as this develops.