On the 1st August 1981, MTV was unveiled to the world. The US TV network pitched itself as an unending stream of popular and cult music from all walks of life, occasionally tied together with on-screen presenters, live performances and the occasional Beavis And Butthead cartoon. And for many decades, MTV was held up as the pinnacle of music-based TV at a time when even terrestrial channels were giving their own airtime to the music industry via Top Of The Pops and The Word. But as those much loved programmes were eventually cancelled, MTV itself has become something of a relic of days gone by as well. The original MTV channel now doesn't even show music videos anymore, instead opting for back-to-back reality shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore and My Super Sweet 16 instead. Yet while these shows still bring in the viewers, the same can not be said for their genre-specific side-projects. So are we seeing the end of music television as it stands?
While it is very easy to slip into the warm blanket of nostalgia when it comes to remembering the days of seeing your favourite band on the television, we must also remember the very real advantage that these shows had towards to music industry. If we take the original MTV flagship show TRL as an example. Here we had an extremely well-loved and watched program that would spew out non-stop music videos from the most in-demand acts of the day. And because MTV was a very cool and sometimes fringe network, the music they played would suit the cult-favouring masses that watched it. Rather than simply churn out whatever the singles chart had in it, it was all about what their audience wanted to hear. Namely, no bollocks. So while the viewers were treated to more of what they liked, they also got a large taste of things they may not have heard yet. This principal of showcasing new talent is of course is the life-blood of the music industry today. And while Simon Cowell may love the idea of a world where people keep buying One Direction albums, the reality is that something will eventually replace them, and it was the job of MTV and similar radio stations to do that.
Yet while radio listening figures still remain steady, if not for the occasional ebb and peak, MTV's viewing figures have become downright pathetic. A quick search on the BARB website reveals that aside from MTV itself, each one of its actual music channels (MTV Base, MTV Rocks, MTV Hits, etc) consistently fails to hit a million views in a week. Some are even as low as less than 100,000 a day. Yet if you log into YouTube on any given day, most well-known acts are clocking up millions of hits for their latest video in less than 24 hours. Which brings us nicely to the main offender in the demise of these channels.
YouTube, and especially its music content provider Vevo, have quickly become the number one source for the latest music trends. Fans from all around the world head there in order to enjoy the latest and greatest hits from their favourite artists. Yet while this has become a great thing for labels and artists alike, especially as now video streams contribute towards a song's chart position, it has quickly created a bubble for music-lovers the world over. The idea of sitting through unfamiliar tracks in order to hear the one you love is gone. Our on-demand culture has left us experiencing the same music from the same acts over and over again, leaving little room for discovery and exploration. And at a time when there is more music coming out every day than there has ever been, we are seeing an extremely top-heavy interest towards the most well-known of artists. And while the algorithms of Facebook and YouTube do try and push similar interests in your direction, the impact they are having is becoming minimal.
So where exactly are we to go from here? Where can we begin to discover new music for ourselves again? Well, thankfully because the BBC is funded through a license fee, they are obliged to ensure that all tastes are catered for via their numerous radio stations, and those late-night Radio 1 presenters are definitely worth their weight in gold as far as new music discovery is concerned. But I truly believe that a music-based entertainment show is what this generation is yearning for. Jools Holland can't be the only source of new music for our eyes, and with a number of channels beginning to stretch out their online content, it surely can't be beyond the realms of possibility to see programs make a return to our lives.