Wednesday, July 21, 2004

PROMOTIONAL TOOL: Congratulations to Judy McGrath, just appointed chair and CEO of MTV Networks in the states. It's a little early to say what this will mean for an MTV battered by its involvement in the Janet Jackson flash-off, but we've spent a couple of minutes digging and come up with a speech McGrath made to the National Association of Record Merchandisers back in 2001:

But what I'm really proud of, and what I'd like to celebrate this morning, is the 20th wedding anniversary of MTV and you guys, the recording merchandisers of America. I mean when you think about it, we really are like this old married couple. We've been together for 20 years, we know each other's quirks and perks, we can practically finish each other's sentences. Sometimes we squabble, but most of the time we're the best of friends.
But the best thing about our relationship, the thing that separates it from most 20-year marriages, is we're still really good at it. I mean it, we've got the moves, we've got the groove, together we're performing better than we ever have.

Really? From the rest of the speech, it's clear that neither side is very interested in fucking each other, and that they're just together for the mutual benefit:

ust to give you some idea of this love thing we got going — 2000 was a record breaking year for music sales, and MTV played a very big role. Five artists — Eminem, Britney Spears, Limp Bizkit, Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC — sold over 1 million records their first week of release, after major MTV exposure the week before — stunts like Eminem hanging out on the channel and *NSYNC hosting TRL.
Radiohead credits MTV2 for helping them debut at number one in sales, and they didn't even make a video. What they did make were these odd, artsy 20-second video blips which we ran all over the channel. The blips not only promoted the album, they made MTV2 look really cool.
We threw a roller derby party for Jay -Z, and his album debuted at well over half a million, right ahead of Outkast, who had just been featured on Making of the Video. We made Papa Roach a staple on TRL, before they were getting any radio play, and their sales shot up to 100,000 a week. And Mudvayne is getting lots of early love on MTV2 helping them make that critical new connection with music fans that will spur their sales.

Had she known what 2004 had in store, she probably wouldn't have got quite so excited about this part:

Then this year, we participated in a little event called the Super Bowl. OK, the game may have been a snooze, but the halftime show, which MTV produced, with, you know, Aerosmith and Britney and *NSYNC and Nelly and Mary J. Blige … made history. Not just MTV history and Super Bowl halftime history, but record merchandizing history. It turns out our modest extravaganza had a direct effect on sales.

Boy, if you thought 2001 was a historic half time show, Judy, you must have been Fukayamed out this year.

Now, all of this might give the impression that MTV has become little more than a market stall, and that any vague notions the station may have had back in the early days about being a challenge to the mainstream have long been set aside in the interests of selling. Damn, are you wrong? It's about the revolution, you know:

So obviously this is a pretty happy, healthy relationship we've got going here — we, the music televisers, and you, the music merchants, And from the successes I've just cited,

one might conclude that we married for money. But I don't think it's that simple. Or cheap. It's not money, honey, that keeps us together. It's revolution.
Indulge me for a moment while I go back twenty years to those heady, romantic days when you and I first met. I arrived at MTV in 1981, just a few months after it launched. It was an inauspicious launch — at the end of our first year, we were carried in fewer than 1 million homes. Today, of course, MTV is carried in more than 333 million households around the world and has not only grown into being the most watched network on the planet but also the most recognized media brand in the world. But you've probably heard all that before.

More recognised than the BBC? Somehow I can't imagine that the World Service is less well-known than MTV, but let's let that pass.

Anyway, I had been a writer at Conde Nast, working at Mademoiselle and Glamour and writing stories like "Women Who Love Men Who Hate Women and Why." I had two friends who were working for a guy named Bob Pittman over at a place called MTV. They told me MTV was looking for writers. So I went over and met with Pittman, an ex-disk jockey from Mississippi, and John Sykes, who used to sell records out of the trunk of his car at Syracuse University. Incidentally, at Syracuse Sykes, who now runs VH1 and CMT, roomed with a guy named Phil Quartararo, who now runs Warner Brothers Records. Was that destiny or what?

But where is the revolution coming in?

Where was I? Oh, yes. so Pittman and Sykes took a chance on me and I took a chance on them. We were all taking risks. MTV was completely different from the world I had known. At Conde Nast, the staff had degrees from Ivy League schools. At MTV, no one had degrees. Many were refugees from radio. Some just seemed like refugees. I guess we all were refugees from former lives. But the one thing we had in common was our passion for music. We felt that rock had the ability to change lives.
I'm sure everyone in this room knows what I'm talking about. I guess if you think back to the beginning, MTV's programming was kind of pitiful. We told people we had hundreds of videos — actually, it was more like 50, and half were from Rod Stewart.

These days, of course, MTV is so busy showing dimwitted lifestyle programmes they wouldn't even need fifty videos.

But it didn't matter — we were part of a revolution. First of all, we were playing music that itself was born of a cultural revolution 20 years before. But we were playing it in a new way, music on television and in the process we revolutionized music and television.
To further the cause, we worked with other revolutionaries such as yourselves. From the start, MTV partnered with retailers to bring art to the masses. Early video stars like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, the Go-Gos and Duran Duran, saw sales soar when their videos become hits.
It all became clear in Dallas. At the time, half of Dallas was wired for cable. On the cable side of town, Duran Duran records sold as soon as they were dropped in the record store bins. On the other side of town, the side not wired for cable, you couldn't give away a Duran Duran record.

We have our doubts about the authenticity of this statement.

And that, as I recall, is how the cable revolution began. The point I'm getting to, and we can all hope that in my nostalgic ramblings I'm getting to a point, and I am, and here it is: This revolutionary music that you and I are so in love with, that is at the heart of our love affair with each other, stands for many radical things. Well, you know the list — freedom, passion, tolerance, experimentation, everyone's an artist, make love not war, bite me — it's quite a list. But one powerful lesson we should learn from the music, and increasingly so today, is that technology is our friend.

Well, to be honest, telling the music industry that they should embrace technology in 2001 would be like suggesting to the Pope that he start giving lesbians the chance to have a go at preaching. But we doubt if anyone would have heard her, as most of the audience would have been guffawing at the concept of Cyndi Lauper being a breast-bearing revolutionary. Anyway, she then bangs on about the Dave Matthews band for a moment - oh, feel the sharpness of the leading edge, before getting to this bit:

"Buzzworthy" ROTATION has now become "," a triple-platform threat that promotes selected new artists simultaneously on MTV, MTV2 and MTV Online. This worked particularly well last year for artist David Gray, who had been selling 5000 albums a week and by Christmas was selling 100,000 a week. is just one of a brand new bag of MTV 360* tools that we're developing.
Is this a revolution? Not yet, but we're working on it. Our goal is to build a total music experience — the first multi-platform, multi-dimensional musical brand for the digital age. The MTV 360 environment will offer more access, more control, more interactivity, more data and more fun. In short, more music and more everything the music's about.

Really? Not "shunt the music off to the margins, and try and sell stuff?"

Right now it especially seems like all the old definitions of retail are up for grabs. How people get music, how they feel about it and how they relate to it is changing right before our eyes. But that's cool -- we have a lot of tools to work with. We have fantastic internet radio with Sonicnet a secure deal with RioPort, thriving television networks ... lots of good ways to touch music lovers. And what we're trying to figure out is, how do we use MTV, MTV2 and in some fresh new ways that consumers will find compelling?

Because at home, the consumers demand to be compelled. You might have spotted the pretence at revolution has slid a little here - it's become a lot about storming barricades, more about swiping barcodes. And, in fact, when you start talking about a secure rioport thriving downloader, 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' does sound a lot more like The Red Flag than it did before.

Fresh ideas are the key, of course. Like "Control Freak," which runs on both MTV2 and And DFX and TRL and VJ for a Day — those shows offer endless opportunities for cross-platform collaboration. They really are the shows of the future, and the best way to expose music to young fans. We go where they are and, and connect them to the music they need and want to discover.

Yes, request programmes. We can't imagine why nobody has ever thought of those before. But why exactly is playing requests the "best way to expose music to young fans" - surely playing them what they know they want to hear is the best way to ensure they never hear anything new, or challenging, or... hang on, I think I'm getting it now.

But perhaps our best and biggest idea of the year so far is relaunching MTV2, which is absolutely critical to our new 360 world. MTV2 is now in over 30 million homes and in 18 of the top 20 media markets. The channel plays music videos 24 hours a day and focuses on breaking new artists and cutting edge music. MTV2 features videos from all music genres, including hip hop, rock, R&B, techno and has even brought back an music industry favorite with the return of 120 minutes.

Viva the revolution of, erm, bringing back old programmes from the dead. Just for the record, of course, MTV2 in the States, like the UK version, has long since abandoned playing non-stop music videos (today you've got the usual mix of movie previews, Steve O sticking things up his ass, Making The Video... you get the idea of the cheap programming you'd see).

Over the last several months, MTV2 has scored big in retail with artists like David Gray, At The Drive-In, Coldplay, and Nelly Furtado. And at this weekend's NARM merchandising committee meeting, we began brainstorming an MTV2 New Music initiative to help spotlight the artists of tomorrow in your record stores.

David Gray, Nelly Furtado - surely not even the most out-of-touch monk in the furthest monastry could have mistaken Nelly and David as the harbingers of revolutionary new music?

So it looks like MTV and NARM will be married for some time to come, at least another 20 years and a few more revolutions. And even if we get it wrong, the music will get it right. You can tell there's something in the air.

This is as close as you'll get to the promised sex metaphor from earlier in the speech - MTV greasing up its asshole and sticking it aloft. It's all 'we'll bend over for you, look what we can do for you' - like a trophy wife in a stagnant marriage, MTV is begging her husband to stick with her, offering new and lower forms of debasement: "Okay, honey, we'll do the 360 environment if you'll not go down the pub tonight..."

The revolution is coming. I don't know if it's cyclical, or political, or what. But whenever things get a little boring … maybe a little conservative, the music gets really good. Think about it -- Eisenhower gave us Elvis and Chuck Berry. Reagan gave us MTV. That's right, we launched during Reagan's first year. Later we made a promo that said, "MTV -- the best thing Reagan ever did. So what's Dubya gonna give us? Personally I think the music will be revolutionary, and the videos will be insane. It's already happening. Don't believe me? Take a look at this video from Fatboy Slim that we're premiering March 22nd on MTV2.

Really, that probably encapsulates it all - that over-praised, humdrum Fatboy Slim video is the new CEO of MTV's idea of really "insane", revolutionary, exciting music. They might as well start sticking out round-the-clock showings of the Time Life Is This Love collection ("not available in any shops") and have done with.

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