I Want My MTV Back

jason-f-headshot-resize+By Jason Friedlander, Director, Marketing Communications

In the summer of 1981, when I was six years old, a new channel appeared on TV – MTV. All day, every day, it played short, catchy music videos that left me in awe. As I grew, MTV did too, unrolling wave after wave of musical content, and most importantly, savvy VJs to put it all into context and provide the soundtrack to my youth.

The channel introduced me to my first crush, Martha Quinn and the coolest people on earth: Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood and J.J. Jackson. These guys knew everything about music and looked like they were having the time of their lives as they welcomed me into their club each and every day. This is where MTV truly found its stride. It didn’t just indiscriminately throw videos at you; it offered welcoming experts to explain the who, what and how behind the music.

The MTV I once loved is long gone, but it doesn’t have to be lost forever. In today’s OTT world, the technology not only exists, but makes it cost effective and smart to re-launch MTV. And not just for music videos either. “Personalized” channels could take off for every niche taste on earth, curated by real humans, not just YouTube recommendations.

Here’s what made MTV so magical and ahead of its time, and why OTT service providers are in a unique position to be able to emulate the channel’s early success.

The magic of MTV
I’ll never forget that first day that MTV appeared among the 36 possible channels I had at my disposal – and quickly became my favorite. No matter how many times I watched the “Video Killed The Radio Star,” every single time, I was still left in awe.

As I grew up, MTV branched out. As videos like “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana played, I was drawn deeper and deeper into its grasp. I never missed a World Premiere of a new video or went to bed early on Friday nights instead of watching Alternative Nation. For me, MTV was a direct line to cool.

MTV was a human-curated linear channel for music videos long before we used words like “curated” and “linear.” Back then, we didn’t have any other choice. Today however, as curated content disappears in favor of algorithmically managed media, and linear channels disappear in favor of the pick-and-choose models of YouTube and Netflix, still nothing has come along to replace MTV’s cultural authority. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering why not.

However, as an OTT professional, I think it’s time to stop wondering and start doing. With today’s technology, this kind of content would be a cinch to execute.

Bring back the human touch
Pandora and Spotify are designed to algorithmically adapt to your tastes. And yet, why is it that I’m far more likely to take a friend’s recommendation of a hot new song than Pandora’s?

It’s simple: People are hardwired to trust other people. And when we leave everything to the machines, what we lose is that element of trust. What drew me to MTV was the way I could count on Alan and the Gang to steer me to the best new music. That element is gone now. Thanks to the democratization of technology, anybody can upload a music video. We’ve got all the music videos we could ever want, but nobody to guide us through them.

Bringing back MTV would be as simple as getting a green screen and hiring industry experts to provide color commentary and news between the videos. For such a low production value, it would have a huge impact on viewers by bringing back that human touch. The original MTV VJs made me feel like I was part of their club – that’s why human guidance is so essential to this model.

Niches, not bubbles
A host would also dial back the personalization – in a good way. Today, algorithmic customization puts people entirely in their own individual bubbles. The experience listeners get from an endless stream of computerized recommendations can’t be called a niche, because it’s unique for everyone. Sure, you can share your Pandora radio station with a few friends, but that’s not the same as knowing that there are hundreds, thousands or millions of strangers listening to the exact same song at the exact same moment.

But what if we had linear channels for various niches, not just music videos, but also curated sitcoms and monster movies – and people could tune in to the stuff that interests them most? I would totally watch a linear feed made up of old Nickelodeon shows like “You Can’t Do That on Television” and “Turkey TV.”

This type of programming would bring back a sense of community; at the same time that you’re tuning in to an MTV World Premiere, all the other music buffs are too, and you’ll have something to share at the water cooler tomorrow and make appointment OTT, something that is sorely lacking today.

I certainly prefer my slick OTT online media setup to that clunky cable box I had back in 1981. Even more so, considering how seamlessly and cheaply it could bring back the curated linear channel model that made such an impression on my memory.

Listen up, media companies: I want my MTV back!

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