On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 am, US television viewers switched on their TV sets and MTV — a cultural phenomenon which would help define a generation — was unleashed into their living rooms and their lives. From Queen to Michael Jackson to Britney Spears, music fans would wait with baited breath for the latest video offering from their favourite idol, before rushing out eagerly to buy the single and plaster the poster on their bedroom wall.
The basis for many a quizmaster’s question the world over, the first video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, a choice which proclaimed to the world that radio was official dead and the visual medium was taking over.
Fast forward more than 30 years and the kids of 2013 no longer wait patiently to watch their favourite videos as they are available on demand anywhere, any time at the click of a mouse on YouTube. Music shops are now considered retro as today’s music fans can order, download and listen to their favourite tracks almost as fast as they can change the channel.
Reaching for the remote is indeed what many TV fans seem to be doing these days as Generation Y complains that the 2013, 32 year-old version of MTV no longer plays music videos and is populated by reality TV shows, dating programmes and chat shows. Has the MTV Generation grown up and moved on and has MTV passed its sell-by date?
“I think it has a shelf life,” Robert Bakish, president and CEO of parent company Viacom International Media Networks admits, as we sit in an Abu Dhabi hotel. “But it also means you evolve,” he backtracks. “Music is still a critical part of what we do, we still do videos… We do things like world exclusive previews across all our MTVs.”
The debate over the future of MTV is one that is currently being mulled in the US, especially as investors express concerns about the channel’s 31 percent year-on-year drop in primetime ratings during the 2012 autumn season.
With MTV representing 18 percent of Viacom’s advertising revenues, the ratings slump resulted in Viacom’s stock price dropping 13 percent in a matter of weeks. The disappointing performance resulted in Todd Juenger, a US analyst from Bernstein Research and one of Viacom’s harshest critics, downgrading his rating for the company from “market perform” to “underperform”.
Juenger was quoted as saying he believed some of the shows currently on air “have definitely not grabbed pop culture attention” and teenage music viewers have “plenty of alternatives to MTV.”
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