MTV in flames- Burn Baby Burn!

Just came across this post in the Guardian on the future, or lack of it, of MTV.
Discovering MTV was a major turning point in my life. I found the channel just a few months after it went on the air, and soon became completely addicted. In that first summer, I was completely obsessed, sometimes waiting up all night to see a video come around in rotation again. For someone from a small city who didn’t have the chance to see major bands in person, it was amazing to see groups I idolized in concert footage.

This is worth emphasizing. In those early years, there were not a lot of true videos, so a huge proportion of MTV’s content was made up of clips of actual live performances, especially by its more rock-oriented artists. Excited as I was to finally see my favorite bands play, I discovered countless new acts that I would never have found. MTV also had a fantastic record of showing complete concerts, many of which I video-taped, and I now have quite a library stored away. In those early years, when the station was growing at an amazing rate, its programming was more creative, more diverse, more interesting than any radio station or TV network in the world. While mainstream radio emphasized finding the narrowest possible format, MTV embraced art rock, ska, reggae, thrash, metal, folk rock, hard rock, punk, new wave, rockabilly, funk, acid rock, acts of the 50s and 60s, arena rock and much more.

The given history in the press is that MTV really only arrived with the emergence of Madonna and Michael Jackson, but the fact is that that was the very moment that the network started its march to irrelevance. Within in 5 years MTV had made the irrevocable decision to be the content provider of choice for the musical bottom feeder. Early MTV fans might have bought 50 records a year or more, but the late 80s viewer was content to buy their annual fix of Madonna and Jacko and leave it at that. Today’s viewer might download one or two singles off I-Tunes, but that’s about it.

As a result, MTV’s music programming became less and less popular. Once the music lover realized there was no point waiting all week for that obscure live Who video to return once you knew it was gone forever. MTV’s response was not to return to the formula that made it one of the most successful brands in history, but to abandon music altogether. In the 90s the era of VJs was long over, Saturday night concerts and the Headbanger’s Ball had given way to The Real World (truth in advertising?????) and The Osbournes. You could see Ozzy’s dogs poo all over the mansion, but you would never again see the original video of Crazy Train.

So now MTV is on its last legs, and spaces like MeSpace and YouTube have filled the vacuum. Why? The offer a diversity of content that MTV doesn’t and won’t. What has MTV and the recording industry taken away from this? Not much. “There’s a lot of clutter and a lot of noise,” says John Reid, head of global marketing at Warner International. “MTV faces competition from the YouTubes and the MySpaces. It’s so hard to break an act these days. We have to focus on fewer and fewer acts.” (emphasis added)

Over and over again, it is music lovers who have been shown to be the strength of the music industry, yet it is the bottom feeder that the industry expends all its energy pandering to. Research shows again and again the people flock to content providers that offer DIVERSITY OF CONTENT, yet the big boys, who have more content than anyone to draw on, instead focus all their energies on the glorification and promotion of acts that are of no interest whatsoever to people who actually like music.  MTV can add all the interactive features it wants- at the end of the day, they’re not offering anything interesting to music fans. Let ‘em die!

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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