COUNTRY MUSIC TELEVISION

U.S. Cable Network

Country Music Television (CMT), a 24 hour, advertiser-supported music video channel that airs videos exclusively on basic cable systems, has emerged in recent years as one of the fastest growing cable channels in the United States. In a symbiotic relationship with record companies and radio stations, CMT has become the most influential aspect in the introduction and popularity of new artists in the country music entertainment field. CMT is also credited with creating the "young country" format which many radio stations have adopted, and with shaping other new trends in the country music genre.

The channel went on the air in March 1983 with about 20 videos and a very small audience. Many observers in the country music industry did not take the channel seriously because they were too concerned about the image already created by Music Television (MTV), an image decidedly at odds with that created by the country music establishment in Nashville. After several years of struggle, CMT was acquired in 1991 by Gaylord Communications and Group W Satellite Communications. The 1990s have proved to be both popular and profitable for the channel, which, according to the A.C. Nielsen ratings service, now reaches almost 30% of all U.S. households and 42% of all cable households, numbers that translate into 25 million television homes. In 1992 CMT was launched in Europe and is now seen in more than eight million homes there. CMT went on the air in the Asia-Pacific region in 1994 and in Latin America in 1995.

The popularity of country music was not truly realized until the use of Soundscan, a computerized tabulation technique. This system reads a bar-code and counts the actual number of record, cassette, and compact disk sales, and is used at discount stores such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart, where the audience for country music is more likely to make purchases than in music stores. A.C. Nielsen reports that CMT is the number one choice for cable programming among women aged 18 to 49. The popularity of country music videos may be attributed to a more sensitive music video genre than its rock music counterparts, and therefore more appealing to female audiences. This sensitivity is created and reinforced through production codes such as camera angles, lighting, and shot sequencing.

CMT has also become a major influence in the success of country music artists and their records. The Gavin Reports, a music industry publication, noted that much of the popularity of country music artists is attributed to CMT and the impact it has had on the marketing of country music. Another indication of this effect is evidenced through the tracking of CMT's "pick hits," videos selected each week to receive additional play. In 1993 68% of the recordings supported by these "pick hit" videos reached the "top ten" charts of Radio & Records, a major music industry trade publication.

-Mary Margaret Butcher