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What Happened to the Music In MTV?

Updated on August 26, 2013

MTV is broadcasting a show about pop singer Ke$ha (née Kesha Sebert) called My Crazy Beautiful Life. The docu-series is a behind-the-scenes look at her Get Sleazy Tour and the recording of her sophomore album Warrior. It was shot over two years by Ke$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?"

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

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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.

MTV took the Music out of Music Television
MTV took the Music out of Music Television


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    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 4 years ago


      I loved the old music programming on both MTV and VH1. After not having had access to them for several years, it was strange to come back and find that reality shows had taken over. At least we have the web now but it isn't really the same.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I wasn't around during the early days of MTV but growing up in the 1990s I did get to see a good bit of it's music programming. Even then you could tell, they were slowly shifting away from music videos but at least you had shows like Say What Karaoke , TRL, and Making the Video that were music related. But as reality television took over, it seems the model for the channel changed. Now even trying to watch feels like I'm watching a completely different channel than even 10 years ago.

    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 4 years ago


      I only got MTV recently because we switched to satellite TV. I was aware that they were doing a lot of nonmusic programming but I was surprised that they've almost completely moved away from music.

    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 4 years ago

      Ardeedia Sapphire,

      At that time, reality TV was really the in thing. And those shows were inexpensive to produce. That format isn't nearly as popular now, which likely explains MTV's continued struggles.

    • Gil Silva profile image

      Gil Silva 4 years ago from Porto, Portugal

      I've been a big fan of this channel, when i was 14-17 years. Now i'm not a follower of this channel but I have the perspective that is not a music channel, unfortunately!

      Nice Hub!

    • profile image

      Ardeedia Sapphire 4 years ago

      The rise of reality TV. More profitable. They took away good brain stimulation and replaced it with crap. I think it's just another way to distract younger kids and fill their heads with nonsense.