Video Killed The Record Star

Remember when the Buggles song "Video Killed the Radio Star" launched MTV -- Music Television back in the 80's?

Who would have thought back then that the singing radio obituary would one day be a death notice for the record business -- and while we're at it -- MTV, itself.

That's where I think we are.

Did you see the MTV Music awards recently? When the main attraction is Britney Spears all cleaned up along with an outraged comedian railing against right wing politics, you pretty much have the stage set for where I'm headed with all this. Look, MTV has always been outrageous -- and certainly their awards shows were. But over the years it seems to me like the music didn't matter.

MTV doesn't matter.

Ask a young person. MTV is so -- Gen X.

Here's my theory.

MTV was created by the very talented Bob Pittman, a good radio guy. He basically invented music radio with pictures. The early videos were rudimentary but the art of making music videos later grew into a cottage industry -- at least for producers. Every artist, it seemed, needed to have a music video. At that point, MTV was beginning to matter.

And radio -- the industry with a terminal inferiority complex -- was looking over its shoulders. Hit radio reacted -- or overreacted -- or didn't react at all. Or all of the above. MTV got into their heads even before it could ever prove itself as a worthy threat.

I believe -- and many of you have told me you agree -- that radio lost its creative edge in the 80's long before consolidation came along.

The music and radio business changed forever once a radio listener could picture in his or her mind Madonna's Like A Virgin (or any other) video while hearing the song. This happened immediately after seeing a video one time. From that point on and for ever more, the music triggered scenes from the video version. In fact, I can still see in my mind's eye the video when I hear a song on the radio. Try this exercise if you have Sirius 8 (Big 80's) where some of the original MTV V-Jays now preside.

But MTV might have been a real threat to radio -- or at least a real boon to the music industry if it had only been able to do one thing.

Play music.

As it became successful, the managers found that a 24/7 music channel didn't bring in the ratings that appointment viewing could. So, VH1 came along to become the music channel and MTV started adding "real" television programming. As far as I'm concerned that might have been great for MTV's bottom line but it eventually led to its decline in popularity with the music loving public.

College kids today don't talk about MTV. It's meaningless in a world with Limewire, YouTube, MySpace and cooler things. The Gen X mantra "I Want My MTV" does not apply to this generation.

Believe it or not, all those expensive-to-produce videos that MTV used to air are really unnecessary in today's media world. A crude video on YouTube will do just fine -- thank you -- and will spread like a virus. It's a very different world.

As the outspoken record industry blogger Bob Lefsetz said in a piece recently -- you had to know something was wrong when the dripping paint on the MTV logo (that was there for a reason) was cleaned up by corporate suits. MTV creative types fought for that dripping paint.

What's more -- that imagery shows what happens when the suits have too much influence over the content (radio, I'm also talking to you, too).

So video killed the radio star -- in a way -- when it got into the heads of the programmers who did a deja vu on taking a backseat to television again. Didn't radio do that in the 50's when black and white TV came along?

And video killed the record business because it was another hurdle that could not be easily overcome for new acts thus crippling the creative factor just at the time when radio stations were continuing to cut their playlists.

And ...

Video killed MTV because MTV was known for playing videos (when they did) on traditional television while today's music loving generation is online looking for more variety, accepting lower production values and loving every minute of being in control. I'm aware that MTV has a web presence. It's not that big a deal with the next generation.


The secret to attracting the next generation?

Put them in control.

Hard to do. But it is the lesson we learn from MTV, the record industry and, yes -- radio.

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