When MTV was launched 27 years ago, its purpose was to play music videos. This noble concept gave way to a pop culture phenomenon, forever changing the dynamic of celebrity culture. MTV became the place to spot the next big thing, and played a huge role in the break-out careers of artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson as well as ushering hip hop into the mainstream with Y! MTV Raps.
Over the years, MTV has become less music television, opting instead for programming dominated by reality television shows. For those of us who remember the MTV of the 80s and 90s, and remember MTV being the go-to source for music news, videos, events and breaking new artists, we see what it has become and wonder what happened.
Many credit MTV's present incarnation to the current music landscape and the change in how music is being consumed. The proliferation of the Internet and digital media has democratized media in ways that few expected, putting more control in the hands of the consumers and forcing the various media industries to reconsider they way they do business. Where previously MTV - for better or worse - was the arbiter of cool, the network began to experience sagging ratings and made changes in the programming, supposedly to fend of becoming irrelevant. According to Business Week, MTV visionary and CEO Judy McGrath and "her coterie of aging hipster executives" took a blow to the ego when Rupert Murdock bought MySpace. McGrath considered the acquisition a red flag and missed opportunity; it was time for a change.
Although this change may have benefited MTV by paying off in ratings and ensuring that they successfully mesmerize their target 13-20 year old audience, it alienated many of its previous following. As the network scrambled to update their programming in and effort to remain "cool," it found the cheapest and easiest answer, often catering to the lowest common denominator. While some would argue that MTV is giving its viewers what they want, I would argue that as a long standing trend setter, MTV holds much more influence than some would give it credit for. Instead of looking at the current boom of indie rock music, seeking out some of today's best unknown talents and helping them break out, MTV has chosen to move further away from it original mission of being music television. Where it was originally groundbreaking and experimental, MTV is now emblematic of everything wrong with pop culture today and an example of conglomerate media establishment.
So this Sunday MTV is airing its 17th annual Movie Awards, a show promised to be "packed with hours of unprecedented insanity." While some may consider it the most relevant movie awards show in the US, I say it was one of many steps MTV made towards its current programming and a glaring example of a loss of focus. Actually, the Movie Awards garners massive ratings and continues to be a success, despite the declining ratings of the Video Music Awards (VMA)...that is until last year. But even on a good day, the VMAs received less than half the viewers of the Movie Awards. Is this an indication of MTV's relevance in the music world; or rather the lack thereof?
While still a highly successful network and self envisioned barometer for all things "cool," MTV has moved so far from its niche that much like any other brand that loses focus, its product is quick, cheap and easy. No longer an innovator and hub for music news, videos, interviews and such, MTV as many remember it is a distant memory and stands today a virtual mirror for today's pop-culture of celebreality obsession, materialism and obnoxious, self centered youth.
Is anyone else wondering, what's the big deal?
Cross-posted to Listen In Music.