(Music Television) is the oldest and most influential American cable
network specializing in music?related programming. It was launched
on August 1, 1981, with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and
roll," spoken on camera by John Lack, one of the creators of MTV.
This introduction was immediately followed by the music?video clip
Video Killed the Radio Star, featuring a band called the Buggles.
The title proved somewhat prophetic as MTV greatly transformed the
nature of music?industry stardom over the next several years. At
the same time, MTV became a major presence in the cable?TV industry
and in fact in the overall American cultural landscape.
One of the earliest and greatest cable success stories, MTV was
established by Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC)
after extensive marketing research. The key to MTV's viability,
at least initially, was the availability of low-cost programming
in the form of music videos. Originally these were provided free
by record companies, which thought of them as advertising for their
records and performers.
MTV presented one video after another in a constant "flow" that
contrasted with the discrete individual programs found on other
television networks. Clips were repeated from time to time according
to a light, medium, or heavy "rotation" schedule. In this respect,
MTV was like Top 40 radio (it even had video jockeys, or vjs, similar
to radio djs). Moreover, it soon became apparent that MTV could
"break" a recording act (move it into prominence, even star status),
just as radio had done for decades.
music video (also called a clip or promo clip) is a brief (usually
three? to five?minute) television segment, usually shot on film
but intended to be shown only on a TV set. The foundation of a video
clip is the soundtrack, which is a recorded song, the sale of which
is promoted by the video. In some cases, other material such as
sound effects or introductory dialogue may also appear on the soundtrack.
visual portion of a video usually consists of live concert footage
or, more commonly, lip synching and pantomimed instrument playing
by the recording artist(s). Dancing is also very common. In many
cases there is also a dramatic or narrative concept, sometimes grounded
in the song lyrics. The "acting" in a concept video is usually done
by the musician(s), although in some cases (e.g., Crazy and other
recent videos by Aerosmith) the video cuts away from the band to
actors who act out a drama inspired by the lyrics. This is increasingly
the case with clips previously used as sound-tracks for films. In
these instances footage from the film, with the original actors,
may be used. In some cases outtakes or re-shot sequences from these
films are used to create a narrative link to the filmed musicians.
(In these cases the video serves as an advertisement for the film
as well as for the soundtrack album or the single track used in
the clip.) The combination of elliptical storylines, record?as?soundtrack,
lip sync, and direct address to the camera seemed so novel in the
early 1980s that music video was often referred to as a new art
form. The content of the new art was sometimes bold (and controversial)
in its treatment of sex, violence, and other sensitive topics.
of the earliest MTV videos came from Great Britain, where the tradition
of making promo clips was fairly well?developed. One of the earliest
indications of MTV's commercial importance was the success of the
British band Duran Duran in the American market. This band had great
visual appeal and made interesting videos but was not receiving
radio airplay as of 1981. In markets where MTV was available, the
network's airing of Duran Duran's videos made the band immediately
popular. Ultimately MTV proved to be immensely important to the
careers of numerous artists, including Madonna, Michael Jackson,
Prince, Peter Gabriel, and U2, as well as Duran Duran.
Goodwin identifies three phases in the history of MTV. The real
ascendance of the network began in 1983 with phase two, the so-called
"second launch" when MTV became available in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
Phase three began in 1986, following Viacom's purchase of MTV from
Warner Amex and the departure of Robert Pittman as President and
CEO. Pittman had been largely responsible for leading MTV down the
programming path of flow and narrowcasting. By 1986, however, MTV's
ratings were in decline as a result of a too?narrow musical palette.
its so-called third phase, MTV has diversified its musical offerings,
most notably into rap, dance music, and heavy metal. To some extent
these genres have been segregated into their own program slots (Yo!
MTV Raps, Club MTV, and Headbangers' Ball, respectively).
At the same time, the move toward discrete programs has increasingly
become a move away from music video. In the process, MTV has become
more like a full?service network, offering news, sports, sitcoms,
documentaries, cartoons, game shows, and other traditional TV fare.
Often these programs are also musical in some sense (Beavis and
Butt-Head), but sometimes they are not (reruns of Speed Racer).
Courtesy of MTV
of the displaced musical content of MTV, especially soft rock and
other "adult" music, has landed on VH1 (Video Hits 1), a second
video channel owned by MTV. Launched in 1985, VH?1 (hyphenated until
1994) quickly acquired a reputation as "video valium" for yuppies.
Otherwise, the channel has had an indistinct image and has languished
in the shadow of MTV. Makeovers in 1989 and (especially) 1994 raised
the network's profile. By 1994 VH1 was playing slightly harder music
and "breaking" recording artists, most notably Melissa Etheridge.
and VH1 are by far the most important outlets for music?video programming
in the United States. Many competing services have fallen by the
wayside, while BET (Black Entertainment Television), CMT (Country
Music Television), and TNN (The Nashville Network) are probably
the most important survivors as of 1995. These networks specialize
in black programming and country and western, which means that they
compete only in a limited way with MTV and VH1.
video and MTV are major ingredients of television programming internationally.
MTV Europe, launched in 1987, was followed by an Asian service in
1991 and MTV Latino in 1993. VH1 seems poised to follow a similar
course, having established a European service in 1994. Both economically
and aesthetically, MTV has wrought major changes in the entertainment
industries. By combining music with television in a new way, MTV
has charted a path for both industries (and movies as well) into
a future of postmodern synergy.
R. Serge. Inside MTV. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers
University Press, 1988.
Andrew. Dancing In the Distraction Factory: Music Television
and Popular Culture. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota
E. Ann. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism,
and Consumer Culture. New York: Methuen 1987.
Lewis, Lisa A. Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 1990.
"MTV Turns Ten." (1991 Yearbook). Rolling Stone (New York),
December 12, 1991.
John. "A Post-modernist Movement: 1980s Commercial Culture & The
Founding of MTV." Journal of American Culture (Bowling Green,
Ohio), Winter 1992.
and Butt-Head; Music
on Television; Pittman,