As was long expected, the FCC voted today to eliminate the Main Studio Rule that has been in place since the formation of the agency in 1934.
But what will that mean in the short term? Probably not a lot. Early on expect to see some networks like Relevant Radio or Bott Radio Network that has programming originate at a handful of locations but dozens of stations or companies that have clusters in adjacent markets such as Beasley’s three New Jersey operations or companies that have stations in both Baltimore and Washington DC could be consolidated into one building.
In the long term be prepared for a much leaner broadcast facility. From talking to engineers who have been preparing for such a move there isn’t much in the way of a consensus on what will happen next. Some of the larger groups may have main studio hubs, a practice that has begun with facilities such as Cumulus’ Nash Campus where all of its national Country programming originates or how EMF’s “K-Love” has already eliminated their local studios through waivers. However, non-commercial networks and syndicated content are one thing, commercial operators will still need local offices/facilities to generate revenue.
One option could be a a regional hub & spoke system where one larger facility produces content for nearby markets. And that is something that companies like iHeartMedia are already doing so nothing would really change there. The only difference could be that instead of having a large studio facility for their unmanned stations, now an operator could build a smaller facility with one or two studios that can be interchanged for whichever station has local programming to originate out of it during a given daypart and the necessary sales and promotions office space. With technology as it is, there could even be a growth in programming originating from home studios.
While this is a major change and of course there will be job losses as there is anytime a group operator has the ability to cut costs, this will not be as big of a change in the long term as some fear. Stations still need people to create content and that content has to come from somewhere. Even at groups like Cumulus, iHeart, or Townsquare stations rely on local talent and programming to serve their audiences. That will not completely go away today, tomorrow, or next year. What radio will look like 5-10 years from now will be different than what it is today just like today’s radio is different than 2007 and than was different from 1997 and that was different from 1987 and so forth. The media landscape is continually changing and this is just another step in that direction.