- Entertainment and Media
The M2 A-Z Marathon: It Never Happened
December 31st 1999. Billions of people worldwide were about to experience something that only occurred every 20 generations, the changing of the millennium. It was about to become the year 2000. The beginning of the mythical age of flying cars and robots and everything else science fiction told us about the future. Hundreds of millions of others were expecting the end of the world. Scripture had been predicting the end of days for at least the past two millennium, and the faithful had been expecting fire and brimstone to rain down from the skies at any time ever since. For some reason 2000 seemed like a logical for the Apocalypse to finally begin. Millions of others were expecting a smaller man made Apocalypse. It turned out computers programs everywhere had not been programmed to change from 1999 to 2000. The expectation was that computers everywhere would shut down at midnight, or worse, would go crazy. Actually, the Y2K problem had been discovered three years earlier, and by 1999 pretty much all computer programs had been fixed to deal with the millennium change. That did not stop a multitude from still thinking that civilization would come to an end as all technology was set to crash at midnight.
While most of the world was expecting either a brand new beginning, or a terrible ending, millions of others were expecting an exciting event. M2, the spin-off channel of MTV, was about to begin the A through Z marathon, or the A to Z marathon, or A-Z Marathon. It was a stunt to promote a newish cable channel, and her is how it went. Beginning at exactly 12 midnight, January 1st 2000, M2 would air U2's A Beautiful Day, and then for the next seven months, air every music video in the MTV archives in alphabetical order until they reached Zoot Suit Riot by Cherry Popin' Daddies. If there was ever any music video you had been dying to see, no matter how obscure or old it was, it would air during that marathon. For the collectors of music videos, it seemed like a dream come true. The only problem, no cable provider seemed to carry M2. Odds are, there was no way for you to see that marathon. For the multitude who did not have MTV2 until a year or more after the event, the A-Z Marathon became legend. How lucky, they thought, were those few who got to see it. And yet, as it turned out, the A-Z marathon was a bust. A huge disappointment for all who watched.
The Arrival of M2
When MTV was launched in 1981, it was a 24 hour music video channel with the occasional concert and movie featuring rock stars. Despite the channels phenomenal success, executives at MTV decided to begin phasing out the music programming in 1987 with the game show Remote Control. By the beginning of the '90s MTV began launching several different new programs that were not music based. The initial reason given was that MTV was providing the kinds of non-music shows their audience wanted to see. If you are thinking that the most logical programming a typical MTV viewer would want to see would be music videos, then you are correct. Despite claiming their viewers wanted reality shows, game shows, cartoons and lifestyle shows, their viewers complained of how the schedule was being taken over by that same programming. With less time for music videos, MTV began adding less new videos to their rotation. This meant that videos from new artists, and many new releases by established artists, were not airing on the channel. In addition, videos more than two years old became a rarity. By 1994, music videos from the '80s and earlier were gone from the channel. In addition, entire genres of music, such as Hair Metal and House Music, were eliminated completely.
Many of the viewers had a new reason to complain. Home video tape recorders became a reality in the '70s, but were not affordable until the mid '80s. As more and more families began buying VCRs, more and more music fans began recording music videos. When the radio stations stopped playing a single, fans of that song still had the option of going to a record store and buying it. Once MTV and the other outlets stopped airing a music video, it usually went away for good. Only a small fraction of music videos were being commercially sold, so unless you videotaped it, there was no way to own it. Music video collecting usually started with the viewer just taping the ones featuring their favorite band or singer, but eventually expanded to collecting every music video. By the 90s the majority of MTVs regular viewers collected music videos. They were not thrilled when MTV cut the number of videos in rotation, especially those who had just begun collecting, and were still missing videos from the '80s.
On July 8th of 1996, MTV announced that they would be launching a new channel to be called M2 on August 1st, to coincide with the 15th anniversary of MTV. They described their channel as "Nothing but music videos shown 24/7" with a "free-form format" that would air an eclectic range of videos. Or as V.J. Jancee Dunn would later claim while promoting the channel "M2 shows everything" and would boast over the months how the channel aired old videos, obscure videos, videos by new artists, Rock videos, Country videos, foreign language videos and basically any and every video that exists. This was the channel the MTV viewer wanted. And more specifically, the channel every music video collector wanted. But there was a catch. M2 was not available on any cable provider anywhere in the United States. If you had a large satellite disc then you could find and watch the channel. But otherwise, the tens of millions of MTV viewers who wanted that channel could never see it.
MTV was promoting the channel as a gift to their viewers. The music channel they had been asking for. But while it may have seemed that MTV was responding to viewer complaints by providing a new channel, they may have had ulterior motives. When MTV launched in 1981, cable providers had more than 50 blank channels out of their 67-95 channel capacity. Their "I Want My MTV" campaign was successful mainly because the cable providers had all those free channels. But by 1990 almost all of those channels were filled. When MTV launched the Ha! Channel, most cable providers turned it down because they had no empty channels left. Part of the problem was that Showtime had just launched their Comedy Channel. Cable companies with almost no free channels left were forced to chose between MTV and HBO's comedy channels. In the end, neither Ha! Nor The Comedy Channel were available on enough cable systems to survive, and were forced to merge into Comedy Central.
Now more than five years later, there were no free channels left. If a cable company wanted to add a new channel, it would have to remove another channel. Waiting in the wings were E!, FX, Animal Planet, Court TV and TV Land, all looking to be added. M2 was way behind them in line. It's chances of being added to any cable provider was slim to none. Many surmised that MTV knew M2 would probably never make it to basic cable, and the only reason it exited was to take the heat off of the non-music programming on MTV. It was not just the viewers complaining. Media journalists regularly blasted MTV for being a music channel that now barely aired music. They were especially harsh when MTV aired poorly reviewed shows like The State, wondering why MTV would replace the popular videos with something they felt was unwatchable. Having M2 would allow MTV's executives to point out that they did have a 24 hour music channel, and blame your cable company for not adding it.
Perhaps a better theory for MTV's decision to launch M2 came from the looming threat of two competing video channels, MuchMusic and The Video Channel. In the 80s MTV was able to crush their competition through exclusive deals with the major record labels. By pressuring the record labels, MTV acquired the exclusive right to air new video releases anywhere up to six months before their competition could touch them. There had been a handful of attempts to launch competing music video channels, including Ted Turner's Cable Music Channel, Discovery Music Network and Hit Video U.S.A., but MTV's deal with CBS, Elektra/Asylum, Geffen, MCA and RCA prevented them from airing most of the current videos, eventually putting them out of business.
But the exclusive deals did not extend to Canada, where the premier music video channel was MuchMusic. MuchMusic was a true monopoly. Not only did Canadian laws prevent the broadcast of non Canadian channels like MTV, but gave MuchMusic the exclusive right to use the music video format. FCC ruled prevented foreign networks from operating in the United States, keeping MuchMusic from crossing the border. But there was a way around this rule. MuchMusic could franchise their channel to an American owned network. And in 1994 a deal was struck with Rainbow Media ( a Cablevision owned company ) to simulcast the channel in the United States as MuchMusic USA.
At the same time, the record companies Polygram, Sony/EMI and Warner looked to launch Music Video Channel which would exclusively air their videos. Viacom filed an anti-trust lawsuit which blocked the launch for years, long enough for the partners to back out and plans for the channel to be cancelled. But in 1994 both Music Video Channel and MuchMusic USA threatened to steal MTV's viewers. And considering how few videos MTV was airing by this point, and how both channels would be immune to MTV's exclusive deals, they had a good chance of putting MTV out of business. MTV was left with only one line of defense. And that would be sacrificing M2.
MTV had been planning to launch M2 since 1994, but not as a music video channel. MTV wanted to get into the home shopping business. During a six month period MTV periodically aired a home shopping program called The Goods on MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon. This was to be a test run for the channel to follow. MTV felt they had a better chance of getting M2 on the air because home shopping channels pay cable companies for their airtime. Somewhere in the 22 months between the end of MTVs home shopping test run, and the announcement of the launch of M2, the decision was made to abandon the home shopping format for 24 hours of videos. It could be that the test run was a failure, or that Viacom could not get enough cable companies interested in carrying a new home shopping channel. But one can not help but notice that the announcement that M2 would be a 24/7 music video channel happened a week after MuchMusic USA was launched.
The theory is this: M2 now had the dream format of the average music video fan. If cable subscribers were to demand a new music video channel, then MTV wanted them to demand M2, and not the competition. Not that there was much of a chance that the cable companies would add any new music video channels with no empty channels left. But MTV could not allow any competition at all. It was bad enough that MuchMusic was now on some of the Cablevision systems. But if a new channel was to be added to any othe cable system, then it would at least be run by MTV. Of course, this strategy put an end to two years of effort in building a home shopping channel. But by now MTV's executives were in panic mode.
The Origin of the A-Z Marathon
MTV continued to promote M2 as the channel that played every music video. But was that ever the case? In 1997 a joint report released by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers concluded that MTV "was no longer relevant". For the past decade it had been MTV who influenced the entire record industry. The artists MTV promoted went on to great success. The artists who's videos they refused to air stayed in obscurity. Even their cartoon show Beavis & Butt-head influenced what albums sold. In the segment where Beavis & Butt-head watched music videos, the bands they said were cool saw a spike in album sales the next day. But according to the new report, MTV was no longer a factor. For some reason this news put the MTV executives in panic mode. Within days of the reports release, MTV held a press conference where they announced they had rediscovered their music roots. They would be showing more videos, including genres of music they had previously ignored. They would be introducing a slew of new music programs. And they would be exiling their non-music programming to the late evening, not showing them before 10pm. None of these changes ever took place. Once the panic subsided a couple of weeks later, MTV cancelled the new music shows, and began expanding their non-music programming down to 5pm. The genres they had been ignoring, like Dance Music, continued to be ignored.
There was something positive to come out of the panic of '97. MTV actually made an effort to get M2 onto someone's television screen. Subscription satellite television had been around when M2 was launched. But they had never been offered the channel. M2 was meant for cable, and cable only. But once MTV executives began panicking that their company had become irrelevant, M2 was offered to the satellite systems. Suddenly the channel was available to about 6 million potential viewers. The channel no one could see was finally being seen.
Internet public discussion groups, the forerunner of the message forum, arrived around the same time M2 was launched. They were a great place for video collectors to contact each other for trades, and to bitch about how MTV had gone downhill, and how none of them could get M2. And once M2 was available on satellite systems, it became a place for traders to bitch about that channel. Mind you, the number of traders who could afford a computer, had internet access, and subscribed to a satellite service must have been a very tiny fraction of the population, but I have been able to find a lot of archived discussion group threads whit unsatisfied M2 viewers. These dated around the years 1998 and 1999, and they suggest that M2 was not the dream channel viewers had hoped for. I have found many complaints that the videos on M2 were no different than what you could already find on MTV and VH1. And that M2 had their own heavy rotation videos that aired all the time. Mind you, these were video collectors who staked out MTV and VH1, knowing which hours to watch for the old, rare or obscure videos. They were able to find and record the videos that got the one time airing on both of those channels. They would know a rare video if they saw it.
So was M2 ever the eclectic everything goes channel that MTV promoted? I have see conflicting accounts of M2's first couple of years, some which say it did air a lot of rare videos, others which say it was always a disappointment. What can be verified is that by 1999 M2 had a tight rotation which aired the same few videos every one to two hours, with a mix of a handful of classic videos that could already be found on VH1's The Big 80s, and alternative videos that already aired on MTV's 120 Minutes. M2 also had millions of new viewers, many who subscribed to Direct TV or Dish Network specifically to get M2. In the discussion groups, these viewers complained about the repetition, and complained that M2 was not digging deep enough into the MTV archives for rare videos. They estimated tens of thousands of videos had aired on MTV since it's inception that have since disappeared onto some dust covered shelf. They wanted M2 to begin airing those videos.
Inevitably MTV caught wind of the viewer dissatisfaction with M2. The VJs began discussing how they knew how the viewers were not happy with the programming. So from that point on, M2 would be programmed by it's viewers. They asked the viewers to write in video requests no matter how obscure. The request would be use to build a new video rotation. Viewers continued to complain that even with the viewer requests, there seemed to be no difference in the videos that aired. There was speculation that requests for popular and recognizable videos were drowning out requests for the obscure and rare videos. Others speculated that the power hungry programmer who ran M2 with an iron fist did not want to give control of the programming to the lowly viewers, so he dug through every request looking for just the videos he wanted to air, and probably even sent in a few requests of his own. Whatever the reason, the viewer request format was not working to the viewers satisfaction. So they sought some other remedy to get those rare videos aired.
The solution came from, of all places, VH1. In 1994 they aired a multi day A to Z marathon. The marathon had been alphabetized by recording artists, showing blocks from each. Not every artist made the marathon, and quite a few artists were limited to just a couple or even one video. The more popular artists saw blocks of almost every music video they ever made. Madonna's block lasted nearly three hours. While the VH1 A to Z marathon was depressingly incomplete, and tended to air just the predictable videos ( they skipped Madonna's obscure regional hit Everybody, which was her first music video ) it did inspire the M2 viewers. What if M2 had their own A to Z marathon, only this time airing every single video in the MTV archives? This idea caught on with the viewers, and soon caught on with the executives at MTV as well.
As of 1999 M2 was still only available on satellite. And as long as they were not on cable, they could not air commercials. MTV had been running the channel commercial free for more than three years. Meanwhile cable television was losing subscribers to the satellite services because they offered more channels than cable. Those satellite services utilized digital technology, which allowed them to compress hundreds of channels over the same bandwidth that analog signals could only air less than 100 channels. The only way cable could compete against satellite was to go digital themselves. The only thing holding them back was that they would need to replace all their copper cable wires with the optical fiber wires needed for digital, and that would take a lot of time and money. But with little choice, the major cable companies all announced they would have their own digital programming up and running by 2001. And that meant they would have hundreds of empty channels to fill. MTV was well aware that MuchMusic USA would be vying for a slot on digital cable. They needed M2 to compete against MuchMusic USA. They needed every cable system to add M2 on day one. And to do that they needed a stunt that would draw attention to M2. And an A to Z marathon airing every music video in the MTV library airing during the new millennium was just the stunt they needed.
The A - Z Marathon: What Really Happened
Why did M2 offer so few videos? Why would a channel that promoted itself as the widest diversity of music videos on television, seem so reluctant to dip into MTV's vast music video archives? Why so much repetition? MTV never gave a reason why. They continued to promote M2 as the music video channel that aired anything even long after it was relaunched as MTV2, even when they began airing reruns of MTV shows. The most common explanation is the ratings. Somewhere some market research was done to figure out exactly what videos should be played. The videos that were lease likely to have the viewer flipping to another channel. Perhaps M2 tried to air a diversity of videos, and the result was a drop off in viewers. This is exactly why most radio stations have such tight repetitive rotations. This explanation makes sense, except for one thing. M2 was commercial free. The ratings would not matter. And since M2 was only available on satellite and a few odd close circuit cable systems at colleges, there were probably not enough viewers to sample for any ratings. Perhaps not even enough viewers to know if they were tuning out the channel if too many obscure videos aired. Up to this point all M2 had was complaint mail that they were not playing enough obscure videos.
There were other theories. In the early days of MTV, record labels allowed them to air videos for free. Once MTV became a phenomenon, the record labels began charging licensing fees. Perhaps some licensing fees were cheaper than others. Perhaps M2 was limited to playing the videos with the cheapest fees, or the videos where some past agreements with MTV allowed them to be played for free. The videos M2 did not air were the ones they needed to pay full fees for. Another theory, MTV itself did not want any of their spin-off channels to beat them in the ratings. So they deliberately withheld videos from those channels, not allowing VH1 or M2 to have a better playlist than MTV. The most common theory was that the programmer had a big ego, and did not want any videos airing that he had not selected for his playlist. While the programmer may rule the channel with an iron fist, it may have nothing to do with ego. If the channel was truly free-form then it would mean that videos were played at random and a programmer was not needed. If the viewers were allowed to pick the videos then a programmer would not be needed. Even if the viewers were allowed to pick half the videos, and viewership went up as a result, then that would prove that the programmer had not been doing a good job when it was only his picks. In other words, the repetition was the result of the programmer protecting his job.
There was one really nasty theory that MTV had been clearing out their archives to make room on the shelves for their original programming. Hundreds of music videos were dumped in the trash to make room for those Real World and MTV Sports tapes. And why not? They were never going to play those videos again, right? It should be pointed out that even if MTV had not been clearing shelf space, there would probably be a need to toss out many music videos. Just the normal wear and tear of running the video through the player every few hours eventually makes the tape unplayable. Some tapes demagnetize while sitting on the shelf, the music videos on them vanishing over the years. It is very possible that an untold number of music videos in the MTV archives were lost over the years thanks to the ravages of time. So, was MTV losing music videos from their library? Could the reason that so many videos were not airing on M2 be that they no longer existed? There is currently no answer to this question. MTV still claims they have a vast archive, and no one has come forward to admit that MTV has been tossing out music videos. There has been some proof that VH1 Classic sourced some of their music videos from store bought VHS music video collections, something that should not have taken place if MTV still had those videos in their own archives. But that also calls into question if MTV shares their archives with VH1.
It should also be pointed out that M2 general manager David Cohn claimed that the MTV archive contained nearly 19,000 music videos which were all scheduled to air during the marathon. This did not sound like MTV had tossed out a significant amount of music videos. And yet, 19,000 seemed like a low number for any music video archive. Canada's MuchMusic had claimed they had 40,000 music videos in their archive. Then again, this is not taking account of the thousands of music videos MTV had rejected over the years. It is well documented that prior to Michael Jackson's Thriller, MTV was not airing any videos by black recording artists. Even after Jackson broke the channel's color barrier, there were published articles on how MTV would select the videos the channel aired. Every Monday the executives would receive submissions from the various record labels which they would watch as a group. After the viewings, then vote on whether or not the video would be added to the rotation. The rejected videos, most likely sent back to the record labels. The videos deemed too racy or controversial to air on MTV must have shared the same fate. MuchMusic could have been a pack rat that collected everything, even the videos they never intended to air.
M2's announcement that they would be airing every music video in the MTV archive became a major entertainment news story, even eclipsing stories of the upcoming millennium celebrations. The event was expected to last at least seven months, ending some time around August. The big show on New Years Eve was usually Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve, but this year ABC pre-empted it for 24 hour coverage of the changing of the millennium. Dick Clark was still on hand as a reporter for the dropping of the ball at Times Square, but there would be no pre-recorded music acts. Instead, ABC News covered firework displays and celebrations from around the world as each time zone reached their midnight. This made the beginning of the M2 marathon the biggest entertainment event on television that night.
Saturday, January 1st was a day to unwind. Across America millions of Americans were recuperating from a hangover. The news media were having a long deserved rest after their olympic 24+ hour coverage of the new millennium. What media outlets were awake were now covering the Rose Bowl and it's annual Tournament of Roses Parade. No one was covering the A-Z Marathon. By Monday it would be old news. Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, E! and all the other entertainment news outlets simply assumed that the marathon must be airing as promised. Probably none of the entertainment reporters were able to get M2 anyway, but if they did have satellite television, a quick flip to that channel would confirm that an A through Z marathon was taking place. It was the video collectors who knew better.
While the rest of the world was either celebrating a brand new millennium, or hunkered down in their basements waiting for the end of the world, all that concerned the collectors was the marathon. They had spent the first hours of the new millennium eagerly watching the beginning of the marathon, and as far as they were concerned, nothing else was as important. It was not long before they began noticing the omissions.
The MTV website would list in real time every video as it played. This is how viewers knew videos were being skipped. They would be listed on the website as having aired when they had not. One early example was Journey's After The Fall, listed as having aired, but M2 went strait to Roger Daltrey's After The Fire. Some 4,500 skipped videos were detected this way. The other omissions were not as easy to detect. These were videos that did not appear on the website and were not part of the marathon, but had once aired on MTV, VH1 and even M2. The prime example of this was Stevie Nicks' Stand Back which had aired on all three channels within the past couple of years. Some popular videos were not as easy to detect. That Outfield video they skipped may have never aired on MTV. Everyone remembered it, but could not place if they saw it on MTV or on Night Tracks on TBS, or perhaps NBC's Friday Night Videos. Omission of obscure New Wave and Alternative videos were the least detectable, because if they did air on MTV, it was probably just once on 120 Minutes or AMP.
The viewers quickly picked up that 1 to 3 listed videos an hour were skipped, not to mention an untold number of other omissions. Thanks to those early forums, collectors across the country were able to confirm that music videos were indeed being omitted. M2 would be inundated with a lot of angry letters in the weeks to come. But the omissions would continue.
As if the deliberately skipped videos were not bad enough, the marathon would be plagued by technical errors which cost the airing of hundreds of other music videos. A typical error would have the wrong music video airing even though the text identified it as the video that was supposed to air. The first day saw a large number of videos reairing instead of progressing through the alphabet. In one instance the same Nirvana video aired twice in a row. This was due to the channel being automated for the weekend. Automating the channels was typical for Holidays. Occasionally something goes wrong. And this time some unlucky engineer with a hangover had to rush down to the channel to set things right. The channel operated in an 8 hour programming wheel. The first 8 hours were taped, then replayed twice. Sometimes when mistakes were made, they were fixed for the second and third leg of the wheel. Other times the mistakes were left as is, and repeated during the second and third leg of the wheel. It is hard to calculate how many videos did not air due to errors, but some viewers were guessing the number may have been in the hundreds. And while it can not be proven, the collectors suspected that many of the errors were deliberate.
They had good reason to suspect this. Almost all the omissions were the rare videos they had been trying to tape. The majority of the videos played during the marathon were the same that had aired on the channel since they began subscribing to satellite. Much like the VH1 A to Z marathon, the average was about one rare video they never saw on the channel before every two hours, and about two that rarely got played every hour. And much like the VH1 marathon, no artist had all their videos air, ( with exception to one hit wonders, but even a few of those artists were reported to have been omitted ). They began to suspect that the same person(s) who had kept so few videos on M2 in the past, were doing everything they could to keep those same videos off the marathon.
If M2 thought they could get away with this, they were wrong. The internet may have still been available to a small fraction of Americans, but it was already changing the world. In the past it would have taken years of regular mail correspondence between collectors to fully discuss and compare notes on the marathon. With the discussion groups, this was being accomplished within minutes. Together they began compiling lists of omitted videos. And they were outraged enough to send the list to the media. One of the journalists who received the list was Carla Hay of Billboard Magazine. After acquiring feed to M2, she saw for herself that the channel was blatantly skipping videos. She contacted MTV Networks demanding an explanation, and they better give a statement because she was going to expose this all in an article anyway. In that February 19th article titled MTV2 Marathon Isn't Using Full Library, David Cohn explained "In any given hour, we have to time our programming to the second, and there has to be a number of droppable videos if a VJ or promo segment runs overtime. Pushing the dropped videos to a later time would compound the problem. We apologize to viewers who may have missed the videos they were looking for, but it just isn't within our resources to make room for the videos that had to be dropped. Videos aren't always being dropped every hour, and we've done a great job of following our original intention, which is to show our vast catalog of videos."
That statement can easily be picked apart. If their programming needs to be timed to the second, then why was no one timing the VJ segments or promos? Since the only thing the channel was airing were music videos, how would pushing videos to the next hour compound the problem? Radio stations had been airing marathons for decades, many of them countdowns of the 1,000 greatest pop/rock songs. Never once was a song droppable, even during the marathons that needed to be completed by the end of a specific weekend. If for some reason a technical issue forced them to replay a song, that simply meant the marathon would run a little longer than expected. If a countdown that was suppose to end by 5pm ran on till 10pm, then so be it. DJs were never allowed to "run long", nor were any lengthy promos cut that would eat up 4 to 12 minutes an hour. How come M2 found it impossible to do what radio had been achieving since the 1920s. And if they realized they had this problem in the first few days of the A-Z marathon, then why was there no attempt to fix it, but rather callously come up with a drop video policy? At any rate, once M2 realized they were outed, they instructed their VJs to stop saying the channel would be airing every video in the MTV archives. But they did not instruct them o keep their segments short. The omissions continued as if the article was never written.
In fact, M2 showed every indication that they would rather not be airing the marathon at all. At some point early on in the countdown, the channel changed its 8 hour wheel to 12 hours. Instead of 8 hours of videos a day, they would be airing 12 hours with only one repeat. Because of the extra four hours a day, the new estimate for the ending of the marathon would be some time in May. The channel even suggested the drastic schedule change was to end the marathon earlier. About midway through the marathon, an hour or two each day was removed so that they could air a regular block of videos. After all, most of their viewers were more interested in the new release than an endless marathon. Why these viewers could not watch the same "new" videos on the regular MTV is anyone's guess.
On March 15th of 2000, MTV moved M2. For the past four and a half years M2 had been broadcasting on it's own signal. These signals were sent up into a satellite and beamed back to earth where the cable companies other program providers picked them up on dishes. Renting a signal on a satellite cost a lot of money. But now that the cable industry was upgrading to digital signals, Viacom found it could take advantage of this new technology and send four or more channels over the same signal. And with cable about to roll out their own digital services, they wanted to be ready with their own new channels. M2 was to move to a sub channel of MTV. The problem was that the move occurred when the satellite providers were not prepared. Companies like DirectTV simply lost the signal, thought that it was due to sun flares, and did not figure out they needed to find the new channel for hours. This meant a big chunk of the marathon, as much as 15 hours according to one account, was seen by no one. As an added insult, MTV wanted so many extra sub-channels that M2 was compressed to the point that it would periodically freeze. It would be months before these bugs were worked out, but MTV decided to work out these bugs during the marathon.
Finally, M2 announced that they needed to end the marathon by mid April, with no explanation as to why. Since they were no longer claiming they were airing every video in the MTV archive, they felt free to omit videos in batches. All they needed to do was play a lot of videos from each of the final letters in the alphabet, and make sure the final video to air was Zoot Suit Riot. Considering they had initially said the marathon would probably last until mid August, exactly what was M2's rush? Not everyone was happy with the marathon. Many viewers saw M2 as the channel to see the latest releases by alternative artists, and could not care less about seeing old videos. To them the marathon was an interruption of the normal programming, and for them it went on way too long. They must of complained just as much as those who complained about skipped videos. Perhaps MTV decided that most of M2's viewers did not want the marathon. Or perhaps they thought they could get away with an incomplete A-Z marathon, and did not count on collectors who watched or taped every hour, and kept notes on every omission. Perhaps the embarrassment of being outed in the press was the last straw. Or perhaps they just wanted another excuse to drop more videos from the marathon. But whatever the reason, they suddenly needed the seven month marathon cut down to three months.
On April 10th the A-Z Marathon ended. After Zoot Suit Riot ended, Jancee Dunn began reading angry mail from their viewers. The marathon seemed to please no one. About half the letters were from viewers who complained that the regular programming was interrupted for three and a third months. The other half complained about how videos were missing. According to those who witnessed this VJ segment, Jancee made some excuse about not being able to play some videos in the MTV library because they were unable to get clearance from their record label. They said not one of the letters was positive. They said that Jancee seemed like she was ready to cry. They also said that Jancee mentioned that perhaps M2 could air the videos missed in the marathon at a later date.
Although the channel was still officially M2, already it had picked up the name MTV2. After the marathon ended, changes were made that would lead into the channel's official relaunch as MTV2 on January 1st, 2001. If the viewers did not like the rotation before the marathon, then they hated it after. What little free-form the channel had was gone. Very few old videos aired, and now very rarely. The music became more mainstream, and more urban. Alternative and rock were being phased out. But the worst was that the playlist was cut down to about three hours worth of videos a week, and most of them repeated on a 90 minute basis. The VJs were instructed to call this programming change "More of the videos that you want to see."
The collectors thought that since M2 was incapable of operating an A-Z marathon, that then needed a new tactic. Some suggested that M2 should air a second A-Z marathon, but only consisting of the 4,500+ videos omitted. But then another idea took hold. Since M2 had said they would be taking requests in the past, then why not do it for real? A daily request show where a VJ would have to read the request letters to prove they were real. Most of the viewers sending in requests would request rare videos, right? How many idiots out there would request a video that already airs on the channel all the time?
It turns out plenty. M2 took their advice and introduced a nightly request show. However, almost every video that aired were for videos already in rotation. The same videos that aired almost every hour were being requested every other day. Jancee even read mail to prove these requests were coming from real viewers. She even grimaced at how unoriginal the requests were, and lectured the viewers on requesting something that gets played all the time when they could be requesting something cool the channel hardly ever airs. Meanwhile the topic in the discussion groups was how no one at M2 was picking their requests. No matter how many letters they sent in, the only ones that reached Jancee's mail bag were for rotation videos.
On January 1st, 2001 M2 officially became MTV2. The request hour continued, but with a new rule; e-mails only. Those hoping for another A-Z marathon were crushed when instead MTV2 scheduled a "Most Overplayed Videos of the Year" marathon. In the next few months MTV2 would begin phasing in programming from MTV. Sponsors began buying commercial time.
MTV2 never got much of a chance to compete against MuchMusic. Once Rainbow Media had signed the channel on all the major digital services, they decided to drop the simulcast of MuchMusic and begin airing an original music channel on MuchMusic USA. CHUM, the parent company of MuchMusic sued Rainbow Media, preventing them from using their brand name on a new channel. So the channel's name was changed to FUSE. Since this was a new channel, there was no back catalog of music videos. FUSE could only show videos made from 2001 onward. Within a few years time both MTV2 and FUSE would be airing mostly reality shows, reruns of old network shows and movies.
As MTV2 went down, another video channel rose up. VH1 Classic was just music videos from the '80s with what music clips ( mostly from television shows ) they could get from the '60s and '70s. VH1 Classic aired quite a few videos that were reported to have been skipped during the A-Z Marathon, but only had about 2,000 videos in a rotation that did not change in three years. VH1 Classic had its own request hour, which was just as unresponsive as the one on MTV2. Between 2003 and 2005 no more than 1,000 videos and performance clips were added to the channel's rotation. MTV snatched VH1 MegaHits from VH1 to launch Logo. VH1 MegaHits was the channel that aired classic music videos from the 90s. After it went down, VH1 Classic began adding 90s videos, but with the restriction that they must be at least a decade old. At that time Eric Sherman gave an interview where he claimed that VH1 Classic had a library of 20,000 music videos. That would mean that VH1 Classic had access to 1,000 more videos than M2 in 1999, even though VH1 Classic could not air videos made after 1995. This suggested that the number thrown out for the number of videos in the MTV archive for the A-Z marathon was either a lie or a wild guess. It also suggests that the number of videos omitted from the A-Z marathon may have topped 5,000, more than originally suspected. Today VH1 Classic mostly airs non music programming and movies.
Further proof that M2 was purposely not airing thousands of videos they had access to came in 2002 when they aired the stunt called 24 Hours of Love. Singer Courtney Love had agreed to stay in the MTV2 studio on camera for 24 hours in exchange for her being able to air anything she wanted during that time period. Press releases from MTV2 confirmed that Courtney would be allowed to air any music video she wanted, and a couple of movies she wanted to air during the event ( presumably during the hours she would take a nap ). After the event began, she was informed that she would not be allowed to air the movies she wanted due to legal and censorship problems, and that they would be rearing reruns of Unplugged in their place. Every time Courtney announced a set of videos, MTV2 would air the first ten seconds of the first video in the set, then fade it out and begin airing rotation videos from the channel. Courtney was unaware of this until guest caller Moby informed her that MTV2 was doing this. The tone in his voice suggested he was not in the least surprised. At one point Courtney was upset because she wanted to air videos from Heart and was told MTV2 no longer had them because the record label had them erased. Meanwhile, at that same time, VH1 Classic had about 10 Heart videos in rotation, and they shared the same broadcast facilities as MTV2. When Courtney began to have a crying fit that they she wanted a Heart video, and that she wanted to leave, a Heart video miraculously materialized. But the rest of the event was a tug-of-war between Courtney trying to air the music videos she wanted, and MTV2 trying to air only the heavy rotation videos, including U2's Electric Storm which aired every hour. ( Courtney had said she wanted to air nothing but female recording artists during the event. )
24 Hours of Love was a revelation. Most celebrities would have backed down, played anything MTV2 wanted them to, and continued to claim they had full control of the channel. But Courtney Love was so out of control that all she cared about was that she had been promised she would be running the channel, and did not stop to worry that maybe she should not piss off MTV when she would need them in the future. There was a time, way back in the '80s, when guest celebrities would host shows on MTV where they said they picked the videos, and you believed them because of all the offbeat videos that aired. But from the '90s on up, even programs where the celebrities said they were only playing their favorites, you never saw anything offbeat, and they always included a few of the heavy rotation videos. Not one of them ever had the guts to come forward and admit the channel picked their favorites. But by the tone in Moby's voice, you could tell that he had expected that MTV2 was not really going to allow Courtney to air what she wanted, even if it had pressed released that they would. If MTV2 had the balls to pull this during the Courtney Love event, and even continue to do so on the air after being caught doing it, then it is obvious they would never give in to some of their viewers and play the rare videos they had refused to air for so long, not during a request show, and not even in a marathon that was suppose to be every single video in their library. The A-Z Marathon was just as much a tug-of-war between the viewers and the programmers as 24 Hors of Love was between them and Courtney.
I would like to say that some channel eventually showed up that aired the videos the viewers wanted. But that never happened. On message forums and chat rooms, viewers of these channels and video collectors talked about how the fans should rise up and create their own music video channel that truly played everything. But something like that would need millions in seed money, and even then it was a long shot that enough cable companies would pick the channel up to keep it profitable. In a way, the internet itself became a solution. Video traders with the technology began converting the music videos in their collections into video files, and then trading them on P2P networks. Shortly after, sites like YouTube came into existence. Traders could now upload their rare videos for everyone to see. Eventually some of the record companies got into the act and began uploading videos. With MTV and the other music video channels hardly ever airing videos, YouTube became the best way for music videos to be seen. Thousands of videos that viewers had wanted to see on M2, and had expected to see during the A-Z Marathon, finally turned up on Youtube. And with some sites that allow you to save YouTube videos, and programs that allow you to convert those files into DVDs, it is now possible to record and save better quality videos than the ones you would have taped off of M2. The problem is that YouTube does not have everything. Many record labels keep their videos off YouTube, and have them deleted as they are uploaded. Others allow some videos but not others to be uploaded. And even if a video is uploaded by a collector and not deleted, the quality varies from very good to poor. There are still a lot of videos that are not on YouTube. And many that are so rare that no one put them on YouTube. Still, YouTube holds promise that in a few years, you could access any music video ever made on the internet. The A-Z Marathon proved that MTV could not be relied on to give us those videos. Now technology has made MTV truly irrelevant. It may be 15 years late, but the viewers may finally get what they want.
This is just a partial list of the videos that are confirmed not to have aired during the A-Z marathon. Some due to "technical errors", some that were dropped and blamed on the VJ, and some that for some reason were never even part of the marathon. While this is only a fraction of the omissions ( there were more than 4,500 that did not air ) it gives you an idea how incomplete the A-Z Marathon was.
Adventures In Modern Recording - The Buggles
After the Fall - Journey
All I Wanna Do - Heart
All Night Long - Billy Squier
All She Wants To Do Is Dance - Don Henley
All the Love in the World - The Outfield
All This Time - Tiffany
All Those Years Ago - George Harrison
America - KCB Band
Angel - John Secada
Angel Eyes - Jeff Healey Band
Angels - Lene Lovich
Animal - Def Leppard
Another Day in the Big World - Eurogliders
Another Kind of Love - Hugh Cornwell
Another Night - Real McCoy
Arabian Knights - Siouxsie and the Banshees
Automatic Man - Michael Sembello
Bad Boys - Inner Circle
Babies - Real Life
Ballad of Jayne - LA Guns
Banana Republic - Boomtown Rats
Bathwater - Tenpole Tudor
Believe - Elton John
Believed You Were Lucky - 'Til Tuesday
Big Hollow Man - Danielle Dax
Blow Away - George Harrison
Body Language - Queen
Boxerbeat - Joboxers
Bring Me Closer - Altered Images
Calling on You - Stryper
Can You Feel It - The Jacksons
Cat House - Danielle Dax
Clean Clean - The Buggles
Crackerbox Palace - George Harrison
Crazy - Icehouse
Crimson and Clover - Joan Jett
Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop) - Q-Feel
Do It - Buzzcocks
Do You Remember the First Time - Pulp
Do You Wanna Touch Me - Joan Jett
Don't Go - Yaz
Echo Beach - Martha and the Muffins
Einstein a Go Go - Landscape
Elephants Graveyard - The Boomtown Rats
Elstree - The Buggles
Empty Rooms - Gary Moore
Escalator of Life - Robert Hazard
Favorite Shirts - Haircut 100
Feel - The House of Love
Flashback - Danielle Dax
For What it's Worth - Holly Beth Vincent
Glad to Know You - Chas Jankel
Good Vibrations - Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
I Want to Break Free - Queen
I Won't Let You Down - PhD
I'm Going Slightly Mad - Queen
Headlong - Queen
Message is You - Gary Myrick
Romantic Traffic - Spoons
Say You Will - Blanket of Secrecy
Shopping A to Z - Toni Basil
Stand Back - Stevie Nicks