Sunday, September 30, 2012

Half a million quid buys you Alicia Keys

We hear from timemtomtime of Russian oligarchs and potentates of all stripes paying large sums of money to get singers to do a special gig; to the list we can now add, erm, Manchester City Council who MTV somehow managed to persuade to underwrite an Alicia Keys gig. Manchester Confidential has the story:

For one gig in Manchester Cathedral, the ‘City Council contributed £425,000’. 
Why would they do that?
Sara Tomkins, Assistant Chief Executive (Communications Customer and ICT) at Manchester City Council, said: "This event will showcase Manchester around the world. As well as showing the concert itself, MTV are also broadcasting a programme about Manchester's musical heritage and music scene. Taking part in such world-class events strengthens Manchester's position on the world stage as a premier destination for music, entertainment and culture, boosts the local economy and increases the global profile of Manchester as an exciting destination for young adults to visit, work, study and live.   

"Manchester's ability to attract such events is testament to the ambition of the city and we hope to realise further activities in partnership with MTV in the coming years. The show has generated massive coverage across national and international media, including the Washington Post, with an expected media value in excess of £6.6m.”
Let's work backwards, shall we?

The Washington Post website (not the paper) did carry a story about the event, albeit one it just took directly from the AP? Here it is, all four short paragraphs of it.
It does mention Manchester, albeit only twice: once in the byline and once in the name of the MTV programme.

You can't put a price on that sort of coverage.

Really, you can't. It's too slight to measure; it'd come in at the sort of money you get if one of your songs is played on Spotify.

It'd be a struggle to build that sort of coverage up into a package worth £6.6million. You'd be struggling to justify spending the half million for that.

But obviously, there's more. MTV making a show about "Manchester's musical heritage". A thirty minute clip show of Smiths, Joy Division and Oasis. You might wonder if you have such a rich musical heritage, why you need to bribe a music channel to make a programme about it.

But that's where we get to the big problem. I think Manchester might have paid for this gig thinking MTV is synonymous with musical cool. That having a live gig on MTV is a bit like playing football at Wembley, or golf at The Belfrey. It's the centre of the music universe, right?

Not really.

MTV audiences have been declining for years, and even the grand feather in its cap, the VMAs, saw almost a six million drop in audience between 2011 and 2012.

But even when people do find their way to MTV, they're not watching music - remember, a short while ago they officially dropped "music" from their brand to reflect that the channel is now about pregnant teenagers, Snooki, and spoiled children being spoiled further on their sixteenth birthdays.

You know the cartoon in the Guardian Guide this weekend where people turn up at a house converted from a pub asking if they could have a drink there for old time's sake? That's exactly the same as creating music programming for MTV.

Manchester paid for the gig from a ring-fenced cultural budget, so it's not quite turning social work positions into an unwatchable TV show, but you wonder if a city which has had to close the homework clubs at the libraries it hasn't shut couldn't think of a better use for the money.

And even if it did have to burn the cash on getting an event which got a brief mention on the AP newswires, why this gig for this network? The suspicion is that Manchester have bought a very expensive lemon.

[thanks to Morag]

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