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What Happened to the Music In MTV?
MTV is broadcasting a show about pop singer Ke$ha (née Kesha Sebert) called My Crazy Beautiful Life. The docu-series is a behind-the-scenes look at her Get Sleazy Tour and the recording of her sophomore album . It was shot over two years by Ke$ha's documentary filmmaker brother Lagan Sebert and a friend. MTV bought the rights to air the show over a six week period. Since the announcement of the show, I've come across several comments along the lines of "MTV is actually airing a show about music?" Warrior
I was curious about these comments, so I checked out MTV's lineup. I was surprised to see almost nothing music related. Now, when I watch music videos, it's mainly on Youtube. Many singers now post their videos online using a provider called VEVO or sometimes under their own personal Youtube channels. I thought that maybe the Internet made MTV less relevant but this isn't the case. MTV actually abandoned music long before the Internet era. So, why did MTV take the music out of music television?
Ke$ha Documentary Trailer
Dire Straits "I want my MTV" in Money for Nothing
Do you watch MTV?
If you don't watch MTV, would you watch if it was still a music channel?
The Move Away from Music
When MTV first aired in the early 1980's the idea was to be like a visual radio station with VJ's instead of DJ's. Ideally MTV, which is supposed to be Music Television after all, should be playing music. Instead the MTV lineup is filled with "reality shows" like Teen Mom and Catfish. MTV started the move away from music in the early 1990's.
Apparently, MTV wasn't attractive enough to advertisers because viewers would change channels as soon as a video they didn't like came on. The teen and young adult audience MTV targeted also had increased entertainment options as more channels became available on cable.
Record labels had to spend a lot of money to produce music videos. However, MTV wasn't paying any royalties to air them. Music videos did provide the labels with advertising but they still wanted royalties from MTV. MTV likely couldn't afford those royalties, since they were already on shaky ground with advertisers. The demand for royalties seems to have been a big factor in the decision to change the original visual radio station model.
However, this doesn't really explain why MTV decided to go in the direction it did go. Airing concerts by diverse artists could have brought in a diverse audience ranging from teens to older adults who would have likely sat through ad breaks. Bios and documentary series in the 30 minute to one hour range could have kept audiences watching during advertising breaks just as well as any reality show like The Real World. Entertainment shows like Extra were another option.
MTV probably didn't have to abandon music to the extent they did. They just needed to change how they presented it to align more with the needs of advertisers. The move toward reality shows hasn't solved the station's money problems. MTV still struggles to get advertising revenue. So, they abandoned their original mission and didn't achieve their goal of becoming more attractive to advertisers anyway.
The VEVO Model
VEVO available on Youtube or through the VEVO app has become a profitable alternative for record labels and artists. VEVO uses advertising revenue to pay for the right to show music videos. The company pays $70,000 for every 10 million views on a video.