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FCC's Starks Sees Radio Geo-Targeting Path Towards Diversity


Geo Broadcast Solutions
Geo Broadcast Solutions

A step toward increasing media content diversity, without exerting additional legislative authority, would be to revise the FM booster rule to allow geo-targeted content to originate from FM booster stations, said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks to Hispanic broadcasters last week in remarks on "The Enduring Legacy of Radio." This would provide stations the opportunity to reach minorities and non-English-speaking audiences with hyper-local content, such as news, weather, emergency alerts and advertising.

In a speech that focused on the need to address issues Hispanic and Latinx and other underrepresented broadcasters face, the Commissioner cited GeoBroadcast Solutions' request for a rule change that would permit radio broadcasters to air geo-targeted programming, using its technology, called ZoneCasting.

"I am encouraged that this proposal has the support of 21 civil rights advocacy organizations, including MMTC, the Hispanic Federation, MANA, a National Latina Organization, and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators," said Commissioner Starks. "These advocates stress that local radio is the only local media that cannot offer geo-targeted content."

"Moreover, the vendor, GeoBroadcast Solutions, has developed an ad revenue sharing model that would help smaller stations install boosters and new technology necessary to use the system without having to secure up-front capital and operational expenses. This innovative proposal reflects the kind of creative solutions we need to consider to address decades of inaction and harmful policies that have kept media ownership in the hands of too few for far too long," he added.

The revenue-share model the Commissioner addressed essentially allows stations to deploy ZoneCasting without upfront capital expenses by use of a revenue split, with GeoBroadcast Solutions providing the infrastructure and each local station using it to sell localized advertising.

"We appreciate the Commissioner's remarks and note that our development of a geo-targeting solution for the broadcast radio industry was due in part to help reach underserved minority sub-markets within a station's signal range," said GeoBroadcast Solutions CTO Bill Hieatt. "We believe our technology will level the playing field across consumer media in ways that cannot be done today but can begin quickly to support moves the radio industry in line with today's technology while also improving the consumer experience in the most widely-used source of news, entertainment, and information."

The rule GeoBroadcast seeks to change relates to FM boosters, and no changes to the FCC's rules regarding translators or interference are necessary. The new rule would be similar to the 2017 FCC decision that allowed television broadcasters to use the Next Generation TV standard -- also known as ATSC 3.0 -- and distribute geo-targeted programming.

GeoBroadcast says the ability for radio stations to add localized weather and traffic, news, advertising, and emergency alerting during parts of a broadcast hour is beneficial to listeners, small businesses, and advertisers. It would allow the radio industry to progress and remain competitive in the market.

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