Launched on August 1, 1981, the channel originally aired music videos as guided by television personalities known as “video jockeys” (VJs). At first, MTV’s main target demographic was young adults, but today it is primarily teenagers, particularly high school and college students. MTV has toned down its music video programming significantly in recent years, and its programming now consists mainly of original reality, comedy and drama programming and some off-network syndicated programs and films, with limited music video programming in off-peak time periods.
Several earlier concepts for music video-based television programming had been around since the early 1960s. The Beatles had used music videos to promote their records starting in the mid-1960s. The creative use of music videos within their 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, particularly the performance of the song “Can’t Buy Me Love”, led MTV later on June 26, 1999, to honor the film’s director Richard Lester with an award for “basically inventing the music video”.
In his book The Mason Williams FCC Rapport, author Mason Williams states that he pitched an idea to CBS for a television program that featured “video-radio”, where disc jockeys would play avant-garde art pieces set to music. CBS rejected the idea, but Williams premiered his own musical composition “Classical Gas” on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he was head writer. In 1970, Philadelphia-based disc jockey Bob Whitney created The Now Explosion, a television series filmed in Atlanta and broadcast in syndication to other local television stations throughout the United States. The series featured promotional clips from various popular artists, but was canceled by its distributor in 1971. Several music programs originating outside of the US, including Australia’s Countdown and the United Kingdom’s Top of the Pops, which had initially aired music videos in lieu of performances from artists who were not available to perform live, began to feature them regularly by the mid-1970s.
In 1974, Gary Van Haas, vice president of Televak Corporation, introduced a concept to distribute a music video channel to record stores across the United States, and promoted the channel, named Music Video TV, to distributors and retailers in a May 1974 issue of Billboard. The channel, which featured video disc jockeys, signed a deal with US Cable in 1978 to expand its audience from retail to cable television. The service was no longer active by the time MTV launched in 1981.
In 1977, Warner Cable a division of Warner Communications and the precursor of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment launched the first two-way interactive cable television system named QUBE in Columbus, Ohio. The QUBE system offered many specialized channels. One of these specialized channels was Sight on Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and music-oriented television programs. With the interactive QUBE service, viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists.
The original programming format of MTV was created by media executive Robert W. Pittman, who later became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of MTV Networks. Pittman had test-driven the music format by producing and hosting a 15-minute show, Album Tracks, on New York City television station WNBC-TV in the late 1970s.
Pittman’s boss Warner-Amex executive vice president John Lack had shepherded PopClips, a television series created by former Monkee-turned solo artist Michael Nesmith, whose attention had turned to the music video format in the late 1970s. The inspiration for PopClips came from a similar program on New Zealand’s TVNZ network named Radio with Pictures, which premiered in 1976. The concept itself had been in the works since 1966, when major record companies began supplying the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation with promotional music clips to play on the air at no charge. Few artists made the long trip to New Zealand to appear live.
On Saturday, 8/1, ’81, at 12:01 am Eastern Time, MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” spoken by John Lack and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year) and of the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, a crunching rock tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over the American flag changed to show MTV’s logo changing into various textures and designs. MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this public domain footage as a concept; Seibert said that they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote, but lawyers said that Armstrong owned his name and likeness and that he had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound. A shortened version of the shuttle launch ID ran at the top of every hour in various forms, from MTV’s first day until it was pulled in early 1986 in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
The first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, originally only available to homes in New Jersey. This was followed by the video for Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run”. Sporadically, the screen would go black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. MTV’s lower third graphics that appeared near the beginning and end of music videos would eventually use the recognizable Kabel typeface for about 25 years. But these graphics differed on MTV’s first day of broadcast; they were set in a different typeface and included information such as the year and record label name.
As programming chief, Robert W. Pittman recruited and managed a team for the launch that included Tom Freston (who succeeded Pittman as CEO of MTV Networks), Fred Seibert, John Sykes, Carolyn Baker (original head of talent and acquisition), Marshall Cohen (original head of research), Gail Sparrow (of talent and acquisition), Sue Steinberg (executive producer), Julian Goldberg, Steve Lawrence, Geoff Bolton; studio producers and MTV News writers/associate producers Liz Nealon, Nancy LaPook and Robin Zorn; Steve Casey (creator of the name “MTV” and its first program director), Marcy Brafman, Ronald E. “Buzz” Brindle, and Robert Morton. Kenneth M. Miller is credited as being the first technical director to officially launch MTV from its New York City-based network operations facility.
MTV’s effect was immediate in areas where the new music video channel was carried. Within two months, record stores in areas where MTV was available were selling music that local radio stations were not playing, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow and the Human League. MTV sparked the Second British Invasion, with British acts, who had been accustomed to using music videos for half a decade, featuring heavily on the channel.
MTV targeted an audience between the ages of twelve to thirty-four. However, according to MTV’s self conducted research over 50% of its audience is between twelve and twenty-four. Furthermore, this particular group would watch MTV for an average of thirty minutes to two hours a day.
The channel has been a target of criticism by various groups about programming choices, social issues, political correctness, sensitivity, censorship, and a perceived negative social influence on young people. Portions of the content of MTV’s programs and productions have come under controversy in the general news media and among social groups that have taken offense.
In the 1980s, parent media watchdog groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) criticized MTV over certain music videos that were claimed to have explicit imagery of satanism. The Christian organization American Family Association has also criticized MTV from perceptions of negative moral influence, describing MTV as promoting a “pro-sex, anti-family, pro-choice, drug culture”.
In 2002, the Parents Television Council (PTC) released a study titled MTV Smut Peddlers, which sought to expose what PTC believed was excessive sexual, profane, and violent content on the channel, based on MTV’s Spring Break programming from 2004. MTV has produced a host of degenerate shows such as Jackass, Undressed, The Blame Game, and MTV’s Fear, to name a few. There is no depth of wickedness to which MTV executives won’t stoop to make more profits. (Wikipedia)
In 2011, Eric Holder and his corrupt DOJ refused to investigate MTV for violating the child pornography laws: The American Family Association reported in January 2011 that: “MTV’s Skins uses teen-aged actors to carelessly flaunt and promote underage drinking, heavy drug abuse, violence and extreme sexual activities with each other, teachers and other adults on a scale never before seen on TV. The content is so graphic that MTV is rating the program TV-MA, but MTV is extensively marketed to high-school children! … In addition to the sexual content on the show involving cast members as young as 15, Parents Television Council counted 42 depictions and references to drugs and alcohol use in the premiere episode.