MTV – The Role of Music Within the TV Channel

An analysis I wrote for my brand management course together with Remo Herzog, Delia Pindei and Lisa van der Zweep in 2010.
Part 1/4: Their Brand Image
Part 2/4: The Change and Difference in Their Brand Equity

the role of music in MTV

Part 3/4: MTV – The Role of Music Within the TV Channel

In the early 80s, Jack Schneider, president of Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC), recognized the opportunity inherent in a music television channel –– MTV was born. MTV’s approach to showing music videos included packaging them with so called video jockey (VJ) introductions and station promos, which helped MTV establish a unique brand identify. Music played a central role in the first years of the new channel. An example is the music video of Michael JacksonsThriller’: The channel paid $250’000 for the right to air the video first and played the video three times every day.

After MTV suffered rating decline in 1985 and 1986, the channel addressed the ratings slide by developing a new strategy: Showing ’long-form programming’ instead of music videos. Analysts applauded the format change, noting that MTV “can’t get by showing clips 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” The first programs remained focused on music videos or live performance, but in 1989 the step was made to programs without any musical content. The popularity of these new non-music-video shows indicated a new direction of growth for MTV. The role of music within MTV changed.

Tom Freston, current CEO and chairman of MTV Networks, said 1993: “We’re not just about music. We’re about all issues associated with pop culture.” As a consequence, MTV reduced the number of music videos shown by 36.5 percent from 1995-2001. By 2005, music videos made up only 25 percent of MTV’s programming. These changes did not happen without criticism: In 1996 MTV addressed these concerns by adding six additional hours of music video programming each week. Moreover, with the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) music got at least some of its importance back. Nevertheless, the long-form programs kept their strong position and the role of music stayed low. Co-founder and original programming chief Bob Pittmann saw the music’s loss of importance coming, noticing in the early 80s: “The star wouldn’t be the videos, the star would be the channel.”

MTV first started off as an all-music channel but over the years MTV has developed into a channel about culture. MTV, during the first years of broadcasting, could be considered as original, authentic and renewing. They offered free music videos to their viewers and the channel became very popular. During the following years the preferences and tastes of the target public of MTV started to shift. The consequences of this trend could be recognized in the decline of MTV in popularity charts. Because of this, MTV started to change their formats. These new programs could be considered as more cultural, but the main focus remained music videos and live performances. As MTV was expanding globally, they also learned that they needed to think and act locally if they wanted to be successful in local markets. As MTV still had difficulties to keep their audience they decided to focus on non-music program content. They hoped that with this program mix they could reach out to other viewers. All in all, MTV evolved from a channel about music to a channel about culture. In this new era, where internet plays a very important role, MTV tried to go along with this new trend by setting up their own website and legal download service. This website was very successful and had a great impact on in our contemporary society.

The main trends in our contemporary society are the social media trend, interactive media and all the new formats on television. As MTV has always went along with these new trends in the past, it is important that they try to do the same thing in the future. MTV has already become a part of most cultures around the world but they still need to focus on cultural differences. Because of new technology, people become more and more connected all over the world however this does not mean that cultural differences will disappear and a global culture will develop. It can be concluded that on a domestic scale, MTV has to make sure that they stay in touch with the local culture and adapt the local preferences in their programming. When MTV wants to stay ground-breaking on a global scale, it might be a better idea to go back in time. When considering the adaption of new technology in media today, it can be said that this adaption is already developed on a large scale. So if MTV wants to stay renewing it might be a better a idea to go back to the early days and start with music videos or radio again. 

[pic: CC-BY-NC, Beyond the Barricade Photography]

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Josef Ohlsson Collentine

A transparent and kind American/Swede who likes cultural patterns and Social Media. A creative early-adopter who sports, discusses and explores. More about me
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