I Don’t Want My MTV

Who needs MTV when we have Snapchat and YouTube? That’s what I wondered when I read Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman’s comments regarding the impact of digital on his entertainment conglomerate, which includes entertainment channels such as MTV. “That transition has now taken hold across the industry, creating disruption, but also spurring action and real momentum towards solution,” he said. He was referring to the negative impacts on his company related to its younger audiences.

“Real momentum towards solution” is an interesting choice of words, especially when you juxtapose it against the current media reality: the fight for attention. Instead of lavishing MTV and its siblings all of their attention, the youth of today, who have grown up with the omnipresence of the other network — the internet, both wired and wireless — are faced with a cornucopia of choices on how to spend their time. Snapchat and Instagram are two big winners of the post–internet generation’s attention-spending. And there are many more, including YouTube, which had a checkered history with Viacom.

MTV became a cultural phenomenon for my generation: It made music stars come alive. Growing up in India, I had access to barely two hours of music videos on bootleg video tapes and cherished watching Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Billy Idol and others who are now forgotten. It was two hours that cost me about five rupees for a single-day rental (a ransom, if you ask me), and it upset my mom, who couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t pay attention to books instead.

Fast-forward to today and it’s clear that MTV has lost its place in the cultural zeitgeist. “Snapchat is the new television and the best part is that users are in control of their very own show,” remarked Julianne Goddard, a Snapchat superstar with more followers than MTV viewers, in a recent interview. “I believe Snapchat is our new TV. Think back to 10 years ago. Could you imagine looking into the lives of your best friends or your favorite celebrities every single day? Snapchat has made it regular to share personal daily content with an open audience — and content that disappears at that. It has created an urgency to actually tune in day in and day out, and I believe they have barely scratched the surface of the app’s potential.”

Snapchat has only turbocharged what YouTube started back in the day. We don’t give YouTube enough credit for being a major disruptor: It trained a whole generation (and counting) of viewers to forget about the idea of traditional television and instead embrace the idea of video. Any video, anytime. And a lot of that video was music — or the “M” in MTV! Whether legal or not, now most kids associate music videos with YouTube.

MTV, which at one time was a verb as powerful as Google, is no longer a cultural imprimatur. And that is why I believe trying to MTV relevant to an entire generation which has ignored it – is really a Mission Impossible.

PS: Check out my YouTube Music App review. I think it just might be what brings down the curtains for what was once an iconic and priceless brand.
Correction: I incorrectly attributed Showtime ownership to Viacom, instead of CBS. At one time they were one big dysfunctional family.

A letter from Om

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