Case Study: the Evolution of Mtv and Muchmusic

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Case Study: The Evolution of MTV and MuchMusic

P.J. Worsfold, 4/30/2007

What happened to all the music on MTV and MuchMusic? With its 24-hour broadcast dominated by music videos, MTV became "perhaps the most influential single cultural product" of the 1980s (Williams), while with an equally heavy musical presence, in the mid-1990s, MuchMusic was "the key to modern Canadian popular music, an indispensable myth-maker and… a deliberate nation builder in picture and sound" (Ward). Yet today, music videos account for just over 15% of MTV's daily programming (altmusictv). Similarly, MuchMusic's video flow, at 50% of its daily programming, is at the lowest level that its licensing agreement requires; a sharp decrease from 2000, when video flow accounted for 87% of their daily programming (CRTC 2006-380). When they began, MTV and MuchMusic dominated their markets. In fact, one could argue that, MTV in particular, created a completely new market, a market that advertisers were willing to pay dearly to access. Yet today, competition for the ears, eyes, and minds of the youth is fierce and advertisers have many options to reach this fickle market. Aside from traditional sporting and entertainment offerings, MTV and MuchMusic are in bitter competition with websites, video games, cell phones, iPods and a host of other technologies; each of which are teeming with some form of corporate sponsorship. With their dependency on advertiser revenue and their obligations to their respective parent companies, an economic imperative long ago eclipsed any allegiance to music that may have once existed in the upper echelons of these two music broadcasters. MTV and MuchMusic are squarely in the business of providing advertisers access to a particular demographic, the nature of their programming is irrelevant, as long as it captures and holds the right audience. Through an endless cycle of focus groups, opinion polls, ratings reports, and schedule retooling, the former purveyors of music videos have found that the majority of their audience will visit their channels more often and stay with their programming longer if they are shown reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, and teen-dramas instead of music videos. Consequently, the networks have adapted their programming accordingly. The music broadcasters that once seemed cutting edge and anti-establishment are now clearly as corporate and contrived as anything else on the dial. Yet, the last half-century of conglomerate era media operations demonstrates that, "the free marketplace of ideas is not congruent with the capitalist free market" (Raudsepp). So, should anyone be surprised that a diversity of music videos, albeit within a broader pop genre, has been pushed out by half-hour portions of schlock aimed solely at generating ratings? Through an analysis of MTV and MuchMusic, which will focus on their early development, this case study will explore the birth, growth, and, what many feel will be the end to music video based television in Canada and the U.S.. While highlighting the technological and circumstantial similarities and the ideological and regulatory differences that shaped these two broadcasters, the panoptic intent of this discussion is to demonstrate the inherent limitations of the free market's ability to stimulate cultural diversity. Before proceeding, it is necessary to provide a brief explanation of the structure that this case study will take. The majority of research on music video based television is American, thus many technological and economic observations are from an American point of view. Where possible, I have endeavoured to include Canadian perspective. However, given our cultural similarities, portions of this case study are based on the assumption that various economic and cultural factors, such as the late-1970s decline of record sales in the U.S., were paralleled in Canada.

Pre-MTV & Pre-MuchMusic

In the late 1960s, led by the Beatles, British pop acts...
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