New Billboard / Rolling Stone Partnership & Paywall is Troubling

The media landscape in music just got a lot more cloistered, oligarchical, and insular. Announced recently, Rolling Stone‘s parent company Penske Media Corp. (or PMC) has entered into a joint venture with Billboard’s parent company called MRC to bring the two biggest music media companies together under the same roof.

Named PMRC (Ironically, the same acronym for the 1st Amendment-challenging music censorship entity that resulted in explicit lyrics stickers on music in the 90’s), the media group will also include music outlets Vibe, Music Business Worldwide, as well as entertainment outlets Variety, Deadline, and The Hollywood Reporter, along with other media brands. In other words, two huge multi-platform media companies have just become one big multi-platform media company at a time when independent music media is failing left and right.

Under the new arrangement, Penske Media Corp. (the Rolling Stone parent) will lead daily operations for the mega media company’s print and multimedia empire, while MRC will lead an effort to use its content production assets to “develop new content and business opportunities” on the live and entertainment media side. Along with all the other assets brought under the umbrella of this partnership, MRC owns Dick Clark Productions, which is behind country music’s ACM Awards, as well as the American Music Awards, and the Billboard Music Awards. The MRC production company also develops movie and television franchises such as War Dogs and House of Cards.

The deal is being compared to the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which immediately limited the choice and options for both American consumers and music creators, and continues to create strain throughout the live music space as the mega company forwards an aggressive agenda of acquiring local assets to bring them under their international control. Though details of the deal are not confirmed and the two companies are quick to point out they’re not officially merging, only partnering, with Penske (Rolling Stone) taking a rumored 80% ownership in the new entity that will control Billboard, it doesn’t look good for the future of music journalism.

The concern is similar for the movie and visual entertainment industry, since competing outlets Variety, Deadline, and The Hollywood Reporter will all be brought under the same power structure. Even more troubling, since the new partnership also includes a production arm, it means the media monopoly will also be reporting on entertainment products the company creates, similar to the concerns raised with major music label Warner Music Group owning the music outlets Uproxx, HipHopDX, and IMGN Media.

Billboard has always been seen more as the music industry leader, with its coverage focused around its industry-leading charts and the stories and narratives they spawn. Meanwhile Rolling Stone is seen as the cultural leader with their coverage veering into politics and pop culture. Together, they can and will monopolize the market on popular music coverage.

The announcement comes after Rolling Stone launched its own set of charts in 2019 to compete with Billboard’s charts. Billboard also began putting its charts and other select coverage behind a paywall in 2019. Here recently, Rolling Stone has also instituted a paywall, including for many of the articles on its subdomain Rolling Stone Country. So not only is music coverage continuing to be placed in the hands of a select few entities, access to this information is being restricted more than ever in the internet age except for those paying into the subscription base of these massive corporations.

Major music media companies working together as opposed to competing with each other means less choice in the market for consumers looking to read and learn about music, and creators who look to media outlets to help get their music to the public. But it also means less accountability in the marketplace as one big partnership commands the biggest bullhorn by far in the music media space at a time when trust in media is falling, and misinformation is on the rise.

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