A little over 26 years ago MTV revolutionized the way we interact with music by using music videos as programming, not just promotion. Suddenly we went from merely listening to music on the radio to more fully experiencing it on TV. Now the Web is facing a similar revolution where music, videos and interactivity are re-imagining our conception of the medium. So why is MTV, the once and former media king of visual stimuli, so MIA? Can the music channel be re-engineered in the user-generated digital age or are iTunes, YouTube and MySpace our new MTV?
Like the Rolling Stones and Rolling Stone magazine, MTV started as a rebellious child of the counterculture but has now conglomerated into a mainstream media establishment, a part of Viacom. It has even outsourced its trademark three-minute form of entertainment, the music video, to its sister channels in order to keep a new generation of attention deficit youngsters tuned in.
The times, they are a’ changing. Kids want to watch the music videos they choose when they choose, and MTV is not rolling along with that–lackluster ratings, reality TV overdose, overall reduced presence in the cultural zeitgeist. To stay relevant and keep the new kids on the block entertained, the channel has to be innovative enough and brave enough to venture into the dangerous playground of the Web.
With music videos infamously facing a total neglect live on MTV, other companies, even the music industry, are taking them and playing them online. Over two years, Universal Music’s International Music Feed (IMF) has compiled an extensive catalog of music videos from most of the major record labels available to stream for free on the site.
Recently MTV Networks announced a promising partnership with RealNetworks’s digital music subscription service, Rhapsody, to compete with Apple’s iTunes Store. MTV will contribute editorial content and its Urge subscribers to the venture, Rhapsody America, which will also benefit from the channel’s various media outlets as a way to reach a broader audience and raise its presence in the digital music business. The partnership will be heavily promoted during the MTV Music Video Awards airing this Sunday.
The older and more established the network gets, the more mainstream and commercial, the more out of tune and irrelevant. MTV has relinquished its title as our youth culture’s spokesperson. But unlike the modern wonders of Web 2.0 — YouTube and MySpace — MTV has a more emblematic personality — a greater connection with its dwindling audience. Just like radio survived the giant threat of TV through innovation, for MTV the Web is the ideal podium to regain its pop culture cool and its influence in the media landscape. But does the user-generation need a spokesperson when they can speak for themselves or do they want myMTV?