What Happened to That 'M' in MTV?

In response to The Decline and Fall of MTV:

One of the first questions young MTV staffers ask seasoned producers, when they are first hired, is why MTV stopped being a 24 hour music channel. After all, a ton of Generation X’ers like you and me remember the 1980’s star studded “I want my MTV” campaign. This was an effort early in MTV’s launch to get teens to demand their cable companies across the country to start carrying the young television network.

I started working at MTV as a production assistant in 2000. This was at the height of Carson Daly’s “Total Request Live” and Britney Spears was rocketing up the charts. MTV had already left the 24 hour music format years ago by the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  I asked one of the senior producers why MTV decided to abandon the old format.

It should be remembered that when MTV first launched in 1981, the music videos they aired were essentially UK promotional videos the record companies commissioned for international use or concert clips from available sources. Music videos drove record sales and concert ticket sales as well. So why did they become worthless after a while? Their own audience essentially made the videos useless as the years wore on.

First, TV advertisers want viewers’ eyes for at least 30 minutes. How often were MTV viewers staying on the channel when a music video came on that they did not care for? Usually, kids would click away after one of their favorite songs was over–so much for that missed Clearasil commercial that was coming up after that song.

Second, the record companies became frustrated by teens who would go online to get their music and video selections. This satirical You Tube video of a fake MTV exec pretty much sums up what I mean. (Caution: some profanity)

Record companies also began demanding that MTV only play and post on their website 30 second clips of newly released videos by the early 2000’s, so internet users wouldn’t steal the entire song before the whole CD was released. That’s why TRL would only play those quick clips and then have the artist come on live to sing it in full.

 Not only that, but record companies were now demanding royalties from MTV each time it aired full music videos associated with their artists.

Additionally, more cable channels began to become more available to the public. MTV no longer was the only channel that teens could go to and find entertainment.

MTV still gives alternatives to those who want a 24 hour music format. Although shows like Beavis and Butthead, Daria, The Real World, and Road Rules were terribly popular with the pre-teen and teen audience in 2000, MTV’s parent company Viacom was toying with the idea of launching a 24-hour 80’s music channel known as MTV 2 to the public. 

In 2000, MTV2 was only available on TV’s within the confines of Viacom office buildings. Employees loved the channel and would sit at their desks with their TV’s tuned to the very budgeted, commercial free, all music, VJ hosted programming. It was like watching MTV from the good old days. In 2002, MTV2 was available to the cable viewing public, but like its sister channel MTV, it eventually turned to regular 30 minute programming. Once again, sponsors want the eyes’ of the audience and the channel probably had bills to pay.

MTV now provides 24 hour all music channels on MTV Hits and various MTV Hits International spinoffs.