Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pseudo Disobedience - Part 1

We've had some good examples of grass roots movements using the Internet to heighten awareness and more effectively bring about change. But there are plenty of astroturf movements that are using the same strategy to further their cause.

Sometimes they're easy to spot, and sometimes not -- until you do a little digging. This post I'll give you some foundation, and next time use that to spot Internet initiatives that seem to come from the public, but are actually businesses furthering their own agenda in disguise.

We'll take the proposed XM/SIRIUS satellite radio merger. The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) is throwing all their money and influence at their congresscritters to sink this merger.

The mantra is that it would create a monopoly, allow the XIRIUS (or whatever it will be called) to raise rates with impunity, and decrease the programming choices for consumers.

OK, imagine a world where McDonald's, KFC and Burger King lobbyed a town council to block the merger of two upscale restaurants because it would create a monopoly, allowing the combined restaurants to gouge the consumer, and the total number of entrees would decrease, limiting dining choice.

Seems odd, doesn't it? Why would fast food chains care what happens to these restaurants anyway? Chez Francois' patrons don't eat Big Macs. If killing the merger meant both restaurants went out of business, though, then it begins to make sense. Because then those patrons would have to eat at the fast food places if they wanted to dine out at all.

And that's what this is all about. XM and SIRIUS need to merge to stay viable. Commercial radio wants to block it so both will die, and they'll return to being the only game in town (well, except for all the other media choices, but they're not focused on those, so we won't either -- yet).

Take a spin around the AM and FM dial sometime. Do you hear even a fraction of the programming variety offered by either satellite radio company? Merging would mean the elimination of duplicate programming, but let's be realistic. The reason why people voluntarily pay for satellite radio when they can get commercial radio for free is the programming. XIRIUS knows that's their primary asset. Don't expect that to significantly change.

Would a combined service charge more? It would be good news for the NAB. If the rates go up, more people will leave -- which is what commercial broadcasters want anyway. And while XIRIUS might be a monopoly in the sense that it will be the only subscription-based satellite radio available, it's hardly an all-or-nothing choice for listeners.

There are many other media choices. In addition to commercial broadcast radio, there's broadcast public radio. There's also Internet radio (for the time being), podcasts, music from MP3 players and cell phones, and more.

I've never subscribed to either XM or SIRUS. If the merger goes through I probably still won't. But I'll still have plenty of listening options.

My house gets its electricty from Dominion Power. If I want electricity, I have one choice and one choice only -- and not having power isn't really an option. Which sounds more like a monopoly to you?

- Ralph

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