Old Debate, New World
June 22, 2012
It was amusing, in a way, to watch the reaction to the Supreme Court's indecency sort-of-ruling, because none of it, ultimately, really matters in the long run. It's like watching a debate on Pony Express regulation; The "horse has left the barn" cliche is quite appropriate this time. It's a matter of people getting worked up over something while the world has moved on.
First, the ruling didn't resolve anything but the fines on Fox and ABC for, respectively, "fleeting expletives" and "momentary nudity," and not because the FCC CAN'T issue those fines but because it didn't put up an adequate stop sign first. Can the FCC still regulate indecency? They didn't really decide on that. Are "fleeting expletives" legal or not? Not specifically addressed. The court sent the whole package back to the FCC with a note saying "try again." That's all it was, whatever the headlines said.
And... it doesn't really matter as much as it once did. That's because while this thing has dragged on in the courts and at the FCC and within the industry, and while the NAB and the Parents Television Council and public interest groups made their proclamations, the world changed. There is no longer any barrier to getting your creative content, whatever it is, to anyone in America, or most of the world, for that matter. You can make a show yourself for practically nothing and stream or podcast it to the world. As Walter Sabo's been fond of saying lately, an 8-year-old (or 9-year-old, he changes up the age sometimes) can make a show and distribute it internationally. (The 9-year-old son of an L.A. comic book store owner has a podcast on the Nerdist podcast network with which I work, this podcast, so that's far from an exaggeration) And if you want to swear or talk about sex or do a video sans clothing, you can do it and you can get it to your intended audience, uncensored and unregulated.
Despite the court decision, you still can't, of course, do anything you want to on broadcast radio, because those indecency rules are still in place, at least for now. And the people who hold the licenses would prefer that you don't do anything to garner a fine or put the licenses at risk, thank you very much. That would be the case whether there are indecency rules or not -- it's their house, their rules, and they tend not to like it when advertisers go away because your explicit material isn't a comfortable fit with their spots. That's all fair, but that's also going to change, because it will be harder and harder for terrestrial radio to compete under those restraints. That's not to say that radio should go NC-17, but the future -- really, the present, just not yet with technical parity -- involves an Internet filled with hosts and commentators unfettered by "the rules," and that's going to make the restrained, sanitized talk of broadcast radio seem quaint to listeners being raised on a very different media diet. (And as surely as there will be, and are, "dirty" shows, there will be others who, in the open market, go the opposite route. There's room for everyone in new media)
That's happening now. And it poses a challenge to terrestrial radio as the culture, for better or worse, changes along with the way people consume media. So we're here now with a Supreme Court ruling that continues the uncertainty of the past 40 years regarding what you can and can't say on radio and television, but unlike Pacifica and unlike the reaction to fines and consent decrees of the past, this time, you can see the end, or at least a vastly different landscape, in sight. "Protecting the children," "scarcity," all the arguments are fading because technology is moving way faster than the regulators and, indeed, the industry can process them. It doesn't matter if you think this is a good or bad thing. It just is. And whether you pepper your speech with F-bombs or keep everything strictly family-friendly, the opportunities the new media world offers for the creation of new and innovative content should have you looking forward. The indecency debate is a fight over past policies and conditions. That story's not about where we're going, it's housekeeping for where we've been.
Plug time!: Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports has plenty of material for your show, whether you use fleeting expletives or not, with hundreds of stories and comments and stupid remarks to help you find stuff about which to talk on the radio or on your podcast or in your sleep -- you'll find it by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. As WFAN/New York celebrates its 25th anniversary, we have "10 Questions With..." Boomer Esiason, the station's morning co-host, Dial Global/Westwood One Monday Night Football commentator, and, of course, former Bengals, Jets, Cardinals, and U. of Maryland quarterback, and, of course, you'll find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com, and watch the videos on the Nerdist Channel at YouTube. And, slowly but less-than-surely, I've been adding material at pmsimon.com again, where I CAN swear, but don't. Self-regulation FTW!
Reminder: I'll be at the The Conclave Learning Conference July 18-20 in Minneapolis moderating a panel, and I'll be covering San Diego Comic-Con International July 12-15 for Nerdist, so if you're heading to either one, stop by/say hi....